Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, June, 2002
This is one of the best shows I have ever seen at the Mac-Haydn. It looks great, it sounds great, and it is just plain fun. There were moments of color and light and song and dance that just made my heart soar. Buy tickets NOW!
Naughty Marietta is an American operetta, which opened in New York in 1910. Set in the French-owned New Orleans of 1780, the show has a highly complex plot that is of no importance whatsoever, and fabulous music by Victor Herbert (1859-1924). Infrequently performed today, Herbert was the composer of more than forty comic operettas, which had lengthy runs on Broadway and on tour around the country in the early decades of the 20th century. After Rodgers and Hammerstein revolutionized American musical theatre in the 1940’s, the frothy operettas of Herbert, Sigmund Romberg, and Rudolf Friml, along with the British antics of Gilbert & Sullivan, were considered inferior to more serious, story driven musicals. This is a pity because, as this production amply displays, they are a lot of fun. You will not learn any deep sociological lessons here, but you will have a whale of a good time, and there are much worse ways to spend a summer evening.
Anchoring the production at the Mac-Haydn is the beautiful and talented Tiffany Thornton in the title role. She is every inch the spoiled French Countess who runs away to the New World to escape “society” and kick up her heels. When she sang “I want to be a prima donna, donna, donna” in Art Is Calling for Me, the number that opens the second act, I thought, “Baby, you are already there.” With a winning stage presence and a gorgeous voice, I would not be surprised to see Thornton go on to a successful career in theatre or opera.
But there isn’t a weak link in this cast, ably directed by Joseph Patton. The handsome David Dorsey is in good voice as Captain Richard Warrington. Stage veteran Michael Shiles (Toddy in last season’s Victor, Victoria) is a hoot as Lieutenant Governor Grandet, attended by the divinely silly Gabe Belyeu as his lacky, Florenz. William DiPaola is appropriately slimy as the duplicitous Etienne Grandet, and Megan Midkiff brings a touch of drama to the frivolity as the lovelorn Adah.
At first I was inclined not to like David Bondrow in the comic relief role of Silas, but he grew steadily on me, adding depth and charm to a character who had seemed merely clown-like at first glance. He teamed beautifully with the always winning Marcia Kunkel as Lizette.
Buddy Clark has provided a pretty set that really works in the Mac-Haydn small space, and the color scheme of the set, Andrew Gmoser’s lighting design, and Tammy McBride’s gorgeous costumes blend beautifully. I was interested to read that one of McBride’s degrees is in spatial design, because I was struck several times with the successful use of space in this production. At the Mac-Haydn everything is right in your face, and the amazing whirl of color, light, music, and dance provided by the design team, choreographer Kelly Shook, and musical director Angelynn Fullarton made perfect use of this proximity. It is one thing to sit a million miles away at Radio City Music Hall and watch the Rockettes kick up their heels, it is another thing when the tiny, talented female chorus at the Mac-Haydn all simultaneously do the splits right under your nose. It is exciting, live musical theatre that is hard to find in this day and age.
Everyone on the stage just seems to be at their best and loving it. How can you not have a great time when it is so obvious that the cast is happy and confident in their work? All those chorus girls who looked so lumpy in the ugly bathing beauty costumes in Mack and Mabel the other week are breathtakingly beautiful in their 18th century gowns, and the male chorus takes a terrific turn too in Every Day is Ladies Day With Me.
I see that Fullarton and Patton have adaptation credits as well for this show, and that there are differences between the historical song list and the one performed at the Mac-Haydn. I can only say bravo (and brava) to whatever clever tricks this team employed to bring Naughty Marietta up to date and make it sparkle as it does. I hope they team up again next season to bring another American operetta back into the modern canon.
Naughty Marietta runs through June 30 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre on Rt. 203 in Chatham, NY. It runs tow hours and ten minutes with one intermission. My 13-year-old son, Brandon, wants me to be sure to tell you that young people will have a great time at this show. I can’t imagine anyone of any age who wouldn’t. Bring the whole family!
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002