Remembrance of time past

Ahh, Sweet Mystery of Life...

Conceived and created by Judith Jarosz
Musical direction by Allan Greene
Theater Ten Ten
Park Avenue Christian Church Building
1010 Park Avenue at 85th Street (288-3246, Ext. 3)
Equity showcase (closes May 26)
Review by Doug DeVita

"Operetta as a form of musical theatre," in the words of Theater Ten Ten Artistic Director Judith Jarosz, is "sadly neglected today." Sadly, perhaps, but there are reasons. By its very nature, operetta straddles the European traditions of grand opera and the distinctly American style of musical comedy that took root and flowered in the 1920s through 50s. It is a very difficult style to pull off successfully today, and most current attempts are either campy spoofs or airlessly reverential salutes.

Theater Ten Ten's production of Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life..., conceived and directed by Jarosz, fell somewhere in the middle. Certainly, no one could be faulted for the love and care that went into the making of the show, yet despite the attractive charm and superb voices of the cast, the evening, and the era it was trying to recreate, never really quite came to life. While it wasn't quite the campfest it could have been, it wasn't exactly the type of evening that makes a re-evaluation of the form seem like a necessity either.

Jarosz and her musical director, Allan Greene, provided a nicely balanced repertoire of songs that ranged from the overly familiar to the unusually intriguing, but aside from the astute musical choices Jarosz didn't provide a stimulating, or even original point of view with which to infuse the proceedings. Left to their own devices, the cast had little to do but open their mouths and sing, which they did with glorious ability. With the exception of the ailing Marianne Martin, who mouthed the words in ensemble numbers and whose solos were cut, each member of the cast had their moments of vocal brilliance: Jennifer Wills did a lovely rendition of Franz Lehar's "Wild Bird"; Andrea Rae found new life in Lehar's ever popular "Vilja"; Greg Horton had great good fun with Johann Strauss's "Pork And Lots of Sauerkraut," as did Philip Cowlishaw with Victor Herbert's "Every Day Is Ladies' Day With Me"; and Matt Castle soared with a beautifully sung rendition of Sigmund Romberg's "Softly, As In The Morning Sunrise." Greene and his small but vibrant orchestra supported them all admirably.

But the lovely singing and musical values aside, there was little else that caught the bubbly fizz of that pre-WWI era. Don Bill's choreography was simple but naïve and stiffly performed, Joanne Haas provided little more than bridesmaids' dresses and formal wear in lieu of costumes, and while Lori William's creamy, rose-bedecked garden setting was pretty to look at, Jarosz's staging failed to take advantage of the possibilities afforded by its intriguing nooks and crannies, inexplicably preferring to place much of the action on the floor of the auditorium. While Michael Nowalk took this quirky staging into account, his lighting was nevertheless as bland as the rest of the evening.

A telling little detail at the top of the second act said it all: Cowlishaw, while strutting through his rendition of "Maxims" (from Lehar's The Merry Widow), carried a prop Champagne bottle. It was a bottle of Freixenet - a pleasant Champagne-like product, but not the real thing by a long shot.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Musical Direction: 2
Performance: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

Return to Volume Eight, Number thirty-three Index

Return to Volume Eight Index

Return to Home Page

Copyright 2002 Doug DeVita