Ohio Light Opera in Wooster Opens Its 40th Season

Ohio Light Opera’s 2017 production of “The Music Man”

Sat 6/16-Sat 8/11

Ohio Light Opera is entirely full of surprises this season, starting with the biggest one — its actual existence. Who would have thought, some forty-plus years ago, that a totally professional opera company devoted to mostly-imported operetta and the Golden Age of Broadway lyric theater could have been located in the small college town of Wooster, Ohio, much less still be flourishing 40 years later? It boggles the mind. But yet, here we are, days away from opening night of the 2018 season, which celebrates the 40th consecutive season of dazzling musical theater.

If that isn’t mind-boggling enough, five of the seven presentations this year are Ohio Light Opera premieres. None of these are exactly obscure, either, considering the stature of the composers represented: Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Franz Lehar, and the multi-talented Leonard Bernstein, whose centennial is also being celebrated this year with a production of Candide. Their collaborators are equally well-known.

1954 was a year of world peace, for a change, but still there were occasional murmurs of disconnect, as the always present management and labor clashed in several areas, including pajama factories. Usually over wages and hours worked. The novel by Richard Bissell titled 7½ Cents extolled the struggle for workers to be acknowledged, however slightly. The musical by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross opened on Broadway on May 13, 1954 and ran for 1063 performances. The story may be set in Iowa, but that number ain’t hay.

Be prepared for fabulous dancing choreographed by Spencer Reese, but the budding superstar Bob Fosse captured his first real presentation on Broadway, although it was his third appearance. At OLO, Jacob Allen is stage director, while J. Lynn Thompson will conduct.

Richard Rodgers combined his music with words by several lyricists, and thus created several different varieties of greatness. Lorenz Hart’s lyrics were perhaps more sassy and vibrant than some and Babes in Arms from 1936 is a terrific example of simple sophistication. You may remember the movie hit for Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, as a framework for the “hey kids, let’s put on a show!”

As with several hits from that era, the subject matter wasn’t entirely PC, but the version being staged by OLO was somewhat gentled by the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music nearly 20 years ago. The plot is still basically the same, and summer camps for kids are still summer camps for kids — where they will hopefully meet and learn to get along with each other, in spite of their differences.

You’ll leave the theater humming the music of Rodgers, such as “My Funny Valentine,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Johnny One-Note” and “Where or When.” It’s difficult to understand why Babes in Arms has never been revived on Broadway since the original, but at least we have OLO to allow us to experience one of the best of the later Rodgers and Hart collaborations. There are two ballets, choreographed by Spencer Reese, with the orchestra conducted by Steven Byess. Stage director is Steven A. Daigle, OLO’s artistic director.

It’s well-established that Cole Porter greatly loved Paris, although he was born in Peru, Indiana. In fact, he once joined the French Foreign Legion. Not a big surprise then, to learn that one of his very earliest musicals was Fifty Million Frenchmen, from 1929. He composed a gorgeous love song to the City of Light, “You Don’t Know Paree.” Even if you’ve never been there, it’ll put a lump in your throat. As usual, Porter wrote the words and the music, but the book is by Herbert Fields. The plot is as you would expect, a bit on the frivolous side, but with such engaging music, who cares? Who else but Cole Porter could (and would) write a love song to an oyster. Other noteworthy songs from this show: You “Do Something to Me” and “You’ve Got that Thing.”

 Oh. The plot? Well, an American playboy is determined to marry a rich French girl, but it’s not as easy as he thought. Especially when the parents of the young lady in question think she should marry a grand duke. Just try and find one. Probably not difficult to see the end of that one. Conductor is H. Lynn Thompson with stage direction by Steven A. Daigle.

Such was his stature that when Leonard Bernstein decided to set Voltaire’s Candide as an opera, he was able to choose from a notable collection of American writers for the lyrics. Unfortunately, not all of them were experienced at lyrics, but with these names, who cares about that little detail: Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, and even the composer.

OLO is using the 1999 version from London’s Royal National Theater Version, by John Caird, as it presents the first work by Bernstein ever to be staged in Wooster. The overture is immediately recognizable, as is one aria in particular, “Glitter and Be Gay,” for a super-confident coloratura soprano. Other notable songs are “The Best of All Possible Worlds” and “Make Our Garden Grow.” Stage director is Steven A. Daigle with Steven Byess conducting.

Franz Lehár’s CloClo will bring down the final curtain. First, however, will be Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe and La Périchole by Offenbach, both of which are old friends of OLO. That preview will be along in a few weeks.

Opening night for the 2018 Season is Sat 6/16, with The Pajama Game in their usual venue – Freedlander Theatre on the campus of Wooster College. Get tickets at 330-263-2345 or  ohiolightopera.

If you’re interested in costumes, the Wayne County Historical Society in partnership with Ohio Light Opera presents Ohio Light Opera: A Costume Retrospective, showcasing four decades of OLO through costume and design. Open for viewing prior to every OLO matinee from noon to 1 pm, and during the Society’s regular tour hours, Friday and Saturday from 1-4 pm. Admission is $5. 330-264-8856.

A relatively new tradition at OLO is the Festival Symposium, during the season, from July 31st through August 3. The theme this year is “Taking Light Opera Seriously” and will feature roundtable discussions, musical presentations, lectures and a look to the future and OLO’s next 40 years Tickets for this special event are available through the ticket office, but don’t delay Some events are already close to sold out.


[Written by Kelly Ferjutz]

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