Even Novices Will Fall For HGO's Chorus!
For Houstonians who don't have the operatic chops to sit through almost three hours of contemporary opera music (and for those who do!), HGO's General Director Anthony Freud dreamed up Chorus!, a terrifically accessible production created from the music that the chorus sings in famous operas and Broadway musicals. Work from Prokofiev, Wagner and Verdi, along with Leonard Bernstein and Richard Rodgers, among others, has been brought together to tell a loose narrative about the struggles and joys of The People, represented by HGO's thrilling chorus members.
At the opening, with the house lights still up and the audience still murmuring, HGO's chorus begins to fill up the Brown Theater stage. All dressed in John Engels's stark black costumes and walking through his maze of tall, narrow flats pasted over with a single, sliced-up, iconic photograph by Arthur Siegel called "Right of Assembly," they seem to wander aimlessly, anxiously, until suddenly the house lights go black and Prokofiev's dramatic "Epigraph" from War and Peace blasts from the stage. The moment is highly theatrical and memorable, and it sets the tone for a production full of surprises and unexpected joys set up by director David Pountney.
Some moments are deliciously racy, as when Caitlyn Lynch sings Kurt Weill's "Alabama Song" all dressed in sparkling red as she wanders through a group of women, touching them with eyebrow-raising intention. "Show me the way, to the next whiskey bar, oh don't ask why," she sings in her soprano voice, sounding drunk with old-fashioned eroticism. There is also a moment when the stage is full of women dressed in petticoats and panties — they creep out of the men's lockers like some naughty dream. And dancer Ashley Lee descends from the sky, lying back on a couch of red lips, dressed in red panties and a bra.
As good as these imaginative leaps are, the best part of this production is the music. Much of it will be familiar to even those who are not opera aficionados. Everything from Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" to Rogers's "You'll Never Walk Alone" (from Carousel) somehow fits logically into this truly original production, which ends with a cheesy but very sweet gesture to the audience. Anyone who thinks opera is stuffy should check out this show. It's a great way to enjoy some of the world's most revered music without having to be an opera know-it-all.
Best friends do a lot for each other, but few go as far as Adriana Sevan did for her best bud Rhonda after the terrible events of 9/11. Rhonda, who was at Ground Zero, was horribly injured in the fiery blast. In fact, her injuries were so severe, she spent a year recovering in a hospital. During that time, Sevan stayed by her beautiful friend's side, giving up auditions (she's an actor), and time with her boyfriend, to help Rhonda recover. Sevan's one-woman show Taking Flight charts that moving 12-month journey, showing us all how extraordinary and unexpected healing can be. The Houston premiere stars Annie Henk in the role Sevan wrote for herself. But Houstonians shouldn't fret over the fact that Sevan isn't in the production at Stages Repertory Theatre — Henk, under the direction of Giovanna Sardelli, really does take flight and soar in this complex and often very funny story. Playing multiple roles, including the Long Island princess Rhonda and the more sedate Sevan, Henk takes complete command of the theater — no small feat, as the show lasts close to two hours without an intermission. The story weaves back and forth from the past to the present, from good times to bad, exploring all the depth, joy and heartbreak of friendship. Henk even does her version of a Latina goddess who appears to help Rhonda heal. All three of these characters are carefully drawn by Henk, and the result is a seductive and powerful performance. Henk is absolutely magical.
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