Through Sat 8/12
During its heyday in the middle part of the 20th century, summer stock theater provided unique opportunities for actors and audiences. Keeping the practice alive is the Ohio Light Opera, which is currently celebrating its 36th season at the College of Wooster.
What originally began as a Gilbert and Sullivan repertory summer festival has grown to encompass all forms in the light opera canon, including mainstream musicals alongside Gilbert and Sullivan productions and European treasures. Over the course of seven weeks during the summer, nearly 20,000 people see a show (or two or three) in the state-of-the-art Freedlander Theatre.
CoolCleveland talked to Ohio Light Opera artistic director Steven Daigle about the current season and the unique company.
One look at the current Ohio Light Opera season and it seems like summer stock to the fullest.
(laughs) It’s summer stock to the fullest, absolutely. We have an ensemble cast of 40 members. Each actor has a show where they’re performing leads and chorus. The whole thing is kind of negotiated around the sense of the ensemble. That’s our hope, our philosophy — that our strength is in our ensemble, not in any one individual that kind of makes it go.
Tell us about the current season.
Well, there is a formula because there’s kind of an expectation with our patrons. We started as a company that did Gilbert and Sullivan. We always included Gilbert and Sullivan titles. This year’s we’re doing H.M.S. Pinafore. In the past almost 20 years we also have catered to what we consider golden age musicals. This year The Music Man is a reflection of that.
The other popularity with the company in recent years, the last 10 years, is doing some of the more obscure early American musicals. Obviously Anything Goes is not an obscure musical, but our mission actually caters to doing the original show. Patrons like that traditional connection to how these shows premiered. This summer we’re also doing a rare musical called Primrose, which is a George Gershwin show. It was first produced in London. The orchestra parts were lost at one time then rediscovered. We’re happy to be presenting it with a full orchestra and full set. It’s very traditional.
The other aspect of our company that is kind of a tradition is doing these early American operettas. So The Student Prince is a very popular American operetta. And for Countess Maritza, it’s not heard as much in the United States, but in Europe it’s still done quite a bit. We do everything in English, so it’s more accessible.
Within summer stock or even the theatrical world, how rare is Ohio Light Opera?
We’re very unique in our ability to kind of weather some of the trends and modern directions. Some of these musicals and lyric theater, the trend seems to be updating them, changing the style of the music and altering it. There’s a tradition I think we established early on with the company that looked at the operetta genre as something that we did that’s rather unique. Also, we didn’t do updating. We used the traditional setting. There’s also now a following of people who want to see some of these rare theater works done in a sort of traditional sort of format. And for that, it’s interesting. That’s the rarity now. It’s to be able to say, “Let’s trust the work itself and present it to an audience.” And having a full orchestra is very unique because a lot of these operettas and musicals are done with a very minimal orchestra because of cost. So that’s unique. And the third thing is this revolving rep. The diehard lyric theater fans in the last three weeks can come in and see all seven of these shows, and that’s a rarity.
What kind of growth has the company enjoyed in recent years?
Our ticket sales are ahead of last year. Part of it is the programming of this rep. Also, the fact that we do a lot of matinees allows people to travel in and maybe have a lunch before the show or dinner after the show and still get back home before dark. I think that’s helped. I can look back at 10 years ago and say we were having difficulty trying to maintain our budget, but now it seems rosy. We’re hoping that will continue in the years to come.
Despite the rich theater experience in Northeast Ohio, it seems as though Ohio Light Opera is sort of a hidden gem in the area.
It is. I think it’s something that we’re always trying to draw in the locals from the region. So it’s not just Wooster, but Northeast Ohio. We’re constantly trying to bring our community into understanding how important it is. We know the survival of this company is totally based on that support. We just want more people to be enthusiastic and to draw them in to celebrate with us. It’s great to see people come into this smaller community, engage with the community and within the spirit of this festival we have.