The Setup: Ever since its premiere in 1874, this effervescent work has delineated the raffish charms of fin-de-siècle Vienna: insouciant romance, wayward husbands and equally wayward wives, fun for fun's sake, masquerade balls, a magnum or two of the best champagne, all set to the strains of those heavenly waltzes. Johann Strauss Jr. was known as the "waltz king" ("The Blue Danube"), so it's no surprise that he could write a show whose tunes would bore into our conscience. A philandering husband and his wife flirt but go only so far with their lovers, yet far enough to cause outrage and stormy scenes. Since this is a droll comedy of manners, the storms are harmless and the outrage is good for a song or two. It's all delicious entertainment. The plot's inconsequential -- it's the music that's immortal.
The Execution: Opera in the Heights imbues this froth with real animation, thanks to the brisk pace of maestro Linus Lerner (in the running to be OH's artistic director) and the wonderfully youthful cast, who, without visible effort or strain, come across as perfectly charming. You'd never guess that director Ben Spierman, who had to step in at the last of all possible moments for an indisposed singer, hadn't studied the role of Dr. Falke for weeks. His rhymed English adaptation of the German text, though, abetted by Ruth and Thomas Martin, is a dismal and clunky affair, shoehorned onto the German cadence with all the finesse of the Hindenburg docking in New Jersey. Heavy and lumpy, it has no Straussian charm and little wit. Ah, but no matter when the singers are so engaging. We especially enjoyed the comic allure of Alyssa Bowlby as maid Adele, the ease and grace of Marc Schreiner as comic foil Alfred, the androgynous and lovely alto of Anna Yelizarova as Prince Orlofsky, and the beauty and stylish acting of Elizabeth Andrews Roberts as Rosalinda (she just needs to sing a little louder to be absolutely A+, even in such a small house as OH).
The Verdict: Chocolate and champagne make a delicious combo, and Strauss Jr.'s operetta is a musical bonbon with bubbly chaser.
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(Through November 13. 1703 Heights Blvd. 713-861-5303. Tickets here.)