Wed 12th to Sat 15th March 2014
Palace Theatre, Redditch
- Director – Steve Skinner
- Musical Director – Tom Porter
- Stage Manager – Andy Witcombe
- Assistant Stage Manager – Steve Wright
- Rehearsal Pianist – Carol Griffiths
- Anna (Mme Glavari) – Eleanor Peberdy
- Danilo (Count Danilovich) Attaché at the Pontevedrian Embassy – Michael Faulkner
- Baron Zeta – Stewart Vick
- Valencienne – Jo Hargreaves
- Camille, Count de Rosillon – Alan Hastings
- Njegus, Baron Zeta’s Factotum – Dennis Crowe
- St. Brioche – Iain Waddell
- Cascada – Anthony Vater
- Kromov – Leslie Johnson
- Bogdanovich – Russell Jones
- Pritsch – Marcus Brampton
- Olga (Mme Kromov) – Lily Hollingsworth
- Sylvia (Mme Bogdanovich) – Elaine Benson
- Praskovia (Mme Pritsch) – Carole Corden
The Merry Widow, Astwood Bank Operatic Society, Palace Theatre, Redditch, 13 March 2014
A GOOD sign with any musical production is that one skips out of the theatre afterwards singing and (almost) dancing – and this was certainly the case with Astwood Bank Operatic Society’s third production of The Merry Widow.
A safe but charming tale based on the 1905 operetta by Franz Lehar, The Merry Widow contains many appealing melodies and is a likeable love story with a typically operatic twist.
Let’s mention the unsung champions first for a change, since they are the first thing one hears during the evening, and say that the orchestra led by Tom Porter provided the secure link that held the show together and helped it to flow.
Show director Steve Skinner certainly put his uncompromising stamp of precision into every aspect of this presentation, with the excellent casting of the two main characters the first vital task to be completed.
Eleanor Peberdy’s strong entrance as the rather forbidding (but stinking rich) Anna Glavari set the scene for the rest of her commanding performance, while Michael Faulkner’s Count Danilo Danilovich was absolutely first-rate. Michael’s powerful voice, stage presence and facial expressions ensured it was always difficult to keep one’s eyes off him.
And surely the duet is the most endearing form of song, with Eleanor and Michael a match made in heaven.
Stewart Vick made a natural Baron Zeta, Dennis Crowe’s Baldrick (Tony Robinson) style Njegus provided some lovely comedy moments, while Alan Hastings as Camille and Jo Hargreaves as Valencienne made an attractive couple (but don’t tell the Baron!).
The minimalist approach to scenery and sets really worked as this was more than made up for by the backing cast including the Grisettes, the costumes and movement of the cast around the stage.
There is quite simply nothing like a live performance, and this show reinforced that view. It is some time since I had the joy of reviewing one of the local operatic society productions, but I was reminded of all the hard work that goes into putting them together – and in this case it most certainly was worth every ounce of effort.
Magical and Magnificent Franz Lehar Extravaganza
This is a musical extravaganza with a feast of memorable pieces that audiences have enjoyed for many years. No lavish set for this company as the scenery was minimalist and simple but in every respect absolutely right. Appropriately perhaps Franz Lehár’s operetta, somewhat of a financial tale, reflects the fiscal anxieties of a small European state whose entire GDP has ended up in a flighty young widow’s jewellery drawer.
Njegus (Dennis Crowe) was comic and novel. Valencienne,( Jo Hargreaves) and Camille ( Alan Hastings) both gave very assured performances none more so than in ‘ A Highly Respectable Wife’ . St Brioche (Iain Waddell) and Cascada (Tony Vater) both played their respective roles with conviction, along with Baron Zeta (Stewart Vick), though the production benefited hugely from a commanding excellent performance from Count Danilo (Mike Faulkner) whose experience and excellent stagecraft was superb. ‘Hisduets with Anna (Eleanor Pebedy) were thoroughly enjoyable including ‘Driving in the Park with You’ and ‘The Waltz Scene’. Both were ably supported by the Ladies and Grisettes in ‘You’ll Find Me at Maxim’s’ and by the whole ensemble in a delightful rendition of ‘Vilia’
Some on stage at times were less sure footed than others though the big chorus numbers from the full ensemble did full justice to this magical and magnificent Franz Lehar extravaganza. It would have been very easy to dismiss the minimalist somewhat ‘home made’ scenery approach to a work normally associated with lavish sets. Maxim’s for example a ‘Blackpool Illumination’ type name board illustrating the scene and a marquee with a park bench. Far from it though and the cleverly designed set was as an ideal combination of scenery for this production and proved highly effective.
Extremely high quality costumes of great colour variation and excellent style enhanced the whole production and the finale pieces involving everyone on stage produced strong waltz time singing which almost certainly left the audience humming those wonderful tunes all the way home.
Ian G Cox – NODA Regional Representative – Worcestershire East (District 12)by