Monday, July 20, 2015

Ohio Light Opera. Oh, Kay!, by George & Ira Gershwin

Ohio Light Opera.  Oh, Kay!, by George & Ira Gershwin
Performance of Saturday, July 18, 2015, Freedlander Theatre, Wooster, Ohio

This past weekend was quite hot and humid, and so my wife and I felt ourselves fortunate to have booked tickets for the Ohio Light Opera and its air conditioned theater months in advance for Saturday and Sunday. We have been attending at least a couple of productions each summer since 1999, enjoying both the operettas and the local delights of Wooster (We highly recommend both the Broken Rocks Cafe and Matsos Family Restaurant). The 37th season of the OLO continues to provide its audiences with top notch operetta and early musical theater. Beginning with a core of Gilbert & Sullivan, the organization has expanded its offerings to include a variety of European and American operettas, and early 20th century and Golden Age musicals.

Oh, Kay! fits into the musical category, a madcap comedy that opened on Broadway in 1926.  It had excellent runs in both New York and London, and initially starred Gertrude Lawrence.  While some of the music is familiar (“Clap Yo’ Hands,” “Do-do-do”), the work is particularly remembered for one song, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which has entered the canon of standards. Set during Prohibition, the plot is the usual mix of silliness, involving two crimes, bootlegging and bigamy, and the efforts of the Duke of Durham, Lady Kay, Larry, and Shorty to save their stash of booze hidden in the basement of a house in Southampton. Jimmy, the owner, has suddenly appeared with a new bride (sort of).  As it turns out, his previous marriage was never annulled, much to the unhappiness of present wife, Constance, and her father, the Judge. Meanwhile, the bootleggers pretend to be previously unmet domestics awaiting the return of the squire, while plotting to move the liquor. Thrown into this mess is a revenue officer and a pair of ditzy sisters. Jimmy, of course, falls in love with Kay and tries to get out of his impending marriage to Constance. All is eventually resolved, but it’s a bit obscure as to just how, as the plot is intentionally a confusing mass of multiple roles (bootlegger as butler, etc.), mishaps, misunderstandings, and near misses. However, the plot is barely the point, as it merely serves as a coathanger for the music and lots of one-liners. And the music is gorgeous.

The cast for Oh, Kay! is outstanding. Nathan Brian is utterly engaging as Jimmy Winters, the unintended bigamist. He acts, he sings, he dances, and he does them all with the aplomb of a young Steve Martin. Equally delightful is Emily Hagens, who has a great deal of fun with her part as Kay, changing accents at a moment’s notice, and doing both the comedy and the love scenes with charm and ease. The bootleggers were in fine form, with special kudos to Samus Haddad as Shorty, whose jokes were so awful they were funny, and Spencer Reese, who  showed off his  dancing abilities in the number “Fidgety Feet.” The Ruxton sisters, played by Sarah Best and Alexandra Vecchio were simply a hoot. There were no dull moments here; every scene was captivating, every song worth hearing. Only one thing threw me. Emily Hagens had her big romantic moment with “Someone to Watch Over Me,” but I was a bit startled by her choice of a rather operatic voice.  I’m used to hearing it more as a sultry torch song.  However, with only a bit of digging, I discovered that Hagens was performing it the way Gertrude Lawrence did in the original run (you can hear it on YouTube). Leave it to OLO to be authentic in its presentation.

As usual, the orchestra performed the music seamlessly and with great enthusiasm (I’m still humming the tunes). The scenery was delightful, the costuming exactly right, the lighting a wonder. Ted Christopher and J. Lynn Thompson are to be congratulated on a job well done. If you haven’t yet experienced the Ohio Light Opera, please go.  It is a hidden gem that cannot be found anywhere else. The season only runs through August 8th. Get thee to Wooster.

Cast: Caitlin Ruddy (Molly Morse), Katherine Corie (Peggy), Kyle Yampiro (The Duke of Durham), Emily Hagens (Lady Kay), Spencer Reese (Larry Potter), Samus Haddad (Shorty McGee), Sarah Best (Phil Ruxton), Alexandra Vecchio (Dolly Ruxton), Nathan Brian (Jimmy Winters), Jessamyn Anderson (Constance Appleton), Boyd Mackus (Judge Appleton), Benjamin Krumreig (Revenue Officer Jansen), and others; with ensemble. Ted Christopher (Stage Director, J. Lynn Thompson (Conductor), The Ohio Light Opera Orchestra.
Musical Numbers: The Woman’s Touch, Don’t Ask, Dear Little Girl, Maybe, Clap Yo’ Hands, Do-Do-Do, Never too late to Mend-elssohn, Someone to Watch Over Me, Fidgety Feet, Heaven on Earth, Oh, Kay.

Jeff Wanser

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