Tuesday, November 8, 2016

THE MERRY WIDOW FROM BLUEGUM CREEK




Music by Franz Lehar - New book and lyrics by Frank Hatherley
Directed by Peter Smith - Musical Direction by Jennifer Groom
Choreographed by Belinda Hassall - Set Design by Thompson Quan Wing
Costumes designed by Janetta McRae - Presented by Queanbeyan Players

The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre until 19th November 2016

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Despite its bumpy, under-rehearsed opening night performance, Queanbeyan Players production of “The Merry Widow from Bluegum Creek” still managed to charm, not the least because of Frank Hatherley’s entertaining new book and lyrics.

Hatherley has set his version of “The Merry Widow” in the Australian Embassy in Paris in 1901. The storyline follows closely on previous versions, but many of the characters have been australianised to create some very funny comic situations. He has managed this without either bowdlerising the characters or compromising the integrity of Lehar’s music.

 In fact, Lehar’s glorious score remains largely intact, and is the great strength of this production, being  very well performed by Jennifer Groom’s large orchestra, and generally well sung by the cast.

Director, Peter Smith, has assembled a cast of impressive singers, led by Louise Keast, who charms as the widow, Anna Gladstone, and provides the vocal highlight of the evening with her superb rendition of “Vilia” (in this version called “Bluegum”).  Charles Hudson is also very well cast as her reluctant love interest, Danny Macquarie.

Fine singing also from Ken Goodge and Stephanie McAlister, obviously relishing their roles as the lecherous Count Camille de Rosillon and his flirtatious paramour, Lady Valerie Wentworth, from Matt Greenwood, nailing every laugh with a fine comic performance as the embassy’s only Frenchman, Michelin, and from Thompson Quan Wing, who not only designed the attractive setting, but also slyly flaunts an impeccable French accent to great effect.

Robert Grice earns his fair share of laughs as the bumbling Australian Ambassador, and Janene Broere shines as the doyen of the Embassy wives, leading them with gusto through a display of unsuspected talents, as French can-can dancers.

Hopefully, blemishes which took the gloss off opening night, like remembering to switch body-mics on and off; smartening up responses to line cues, and mastering Belinda Hassall’s very basic choreography, will be attended to so that Lehar’s glorious music, and Hatherley's very funny script can shine through, without distraction.

Photo: Louise Keast  as Anna Gladstone (Centre) 
L to R: Jono Windsor, Thompson Quan Wing, Tony Betts, Adrian Van Prooyen, Peter Smith.
Photographer: Ali Newhouse

This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 6th November 2016
   


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