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Merry Widow combines comedy, dance and music

Great musical theatre. This magnificent art form comes in several genres. First, of course, is grand opera. Made in heaven itself, it is all-encompassing and stands atop the Mt. Olympus of art.

Right up there are American Musical Theatre and Viennese Operetta. They will also live forever. I feel that American Musical Theatre is in a rather depressed state now. Revivals of the past great age populate the major theaters. Vienna’s music is crystallized as a by-gone era.

When any of these works are revived, treated with the reverence and freshness they deserve, it is a revelation. Dayton Opera’s latest production, Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow is just such a revelation.

When Dayton Opera Impresario Tom Bankston announced that “Widow” would end this season, I had personal qualms. It is a very dated piece, full of some of the greatest music, but also full of concerns for a mythical European monarchy and a convoluted love story well-laced with comedy.

Who cares any longer for Pontevedrio? After seeing this masterful production, I do – and so did the large audience on opening night!

Impresario Tom has assembled a cast and team who are talented and beautiful. They are full of the very spark needed to make this the Queen of operettas, written by the acknowledged King of operetta Franz Lehár, sparkle.

Lehár’s music pervades every scene. The magnificent tunes, familiar but rarely heard in full context, are heavenly. Maestro Jeff Powell and the Philharmonic artists did not miss a single opportunity to fill the Schuster with this great music.
The stage was filled with sumptuously gowned ladies, elegant gentlemen in smashing uniforms and medals and, of course, sprightly and lovely dancers. The stage direction by Albert Sherman could only be called “delicious.” Continual movement, comic highlights on a stately set, gave life and lift to this timeless work. The only thing missing was a massive dose of schlag – Viennese whipped cream.

Now, the cast! As the Merry Widow, beautiful Megan Monaghan, returns and creates yet another personal triumph. Teamed with handsome Matthew Worth, the seemingly recalcitrant lovers took every opportunity to make the audience love both of them as well. The other handsome couple of would-be lovers were Dayton’s own operatic beauty Laura Portune and tenor Matt Morgan.

All of the principals, the entire cast in fact, handled the dialogue and acting very well. I know that many of our stars have experience in musical theatre and it showed. Each principal, and the fabulous large chorus, made their parts glow.
Everyone had a hand in the comic opportunities. It was Mark Baker and Curt Olds who spirited that critical mass. Both handled their dialogue, and singing, with wry timing and impish wit. As the baron, cuckolded by beautiful Laura, Baker set the stage reeling. Olds, as the Baron’s toady aide, emerged as Maurice Chevalier complete with gorgeous leggy dancers in a hilarious number.

Great musical moments – there were many. The famous “Vijla” was superb. It was joined by Megan’s versatile vocal gifts in a sultry “My Kisses are like Wine” and with Matthew Worth in the beautiful “Merry Widow Waltz.”

Matthew made a convincing lover as well as a charming rogue. He sings in a warm and ringing baritone. He was also part of the “men’s kick chorus line.” In a stroke of comic genius, all the principal men, while singing “Girls, Girls, Girls,” cavorted as can-can dancers almost stopping the show.

Laura Portune and Matt Morgan had plenty of coy acting to do but also sang their flirtatious duets with heart-warming charm. The dancers, Barbara Pontecorvo’s Gem City Ballet, had so many roles. They danced with élan and verve like seasoned professionals.

The two remaining performances of The Merry Widow on April 3 and 5 beckon. If you love glorious music, beautiful singers and dancers – be there.

A Streetcar Named Desire

Saying A Streetcar Named Desire to anyone, the image of Marlon Brando shouting “Stella” explodes into the mind. The play is an icon, Brando an icon, the film, an icon.

For community theater to tackle “Streetcar” it is a stretch of confidence. Dayton Playhouse, like Dayton Theatre Guild, knows no fear. Two seasons ago, they mounted Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolfe with smashing success.

Nevertheless, I had reservations. Even with Barbara Coriell as director and the acting strengths of Wendi Michael and Amy Brooks, I had trepidations.
My fears were groundless. The cast delivered a very credible version of the emotionally draining drama of Tennessee Williams. Neither Brando’s nor Vivian Leigh’s shadow cast a pall on their efforts.

The inventive set established the squalor of New Orleans’ French Quarter. The opening scene, a poker game, also set the demeanor of the characters. Stanley is volatile, animalian, but loves his wife Stella. The intrusion of her sister Blanche, full of airs of superiority, became the agon of the tragic drama.

As Blanche, Wendi Michael was both vulnerable and illusionary. Stanley’s intolerance grew logarithmically while Stella strove to keep the fragile peace.

There was to be no peace, but very fine acting by the entire ensemble kept the audience in the drama and within the personae of the characters. Another unlikely triumph of that spark which is good community theater.


Oregon District First Friday Art Hop

The next First Friday downtown art hop will be held from 5 to 10 p.m. April 3. The following exhibits will be on display in the Oregon Arts District:

Goloka, 521 E. Fifth St., will host the opening of “OROBORUS,” an exhibition of sculpture and assemblage by Chicago sculptor and performance artist Bradley Cahill. The exhibit runs through April 30.

Link Gallery, 519 E. Fifth St., will host the opening of “Frayed,” an exhibition of work from graduating visual arts students at the University of Dayton. The show consists of work from students concentrating in a variety of mediums, including graphic design, fine arts, art education, photography and art history. The exhibit runs through April 25, when a closing reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m.

Gallery 510 Fine Art, 510 E. Fifth St., will celebrate National Poetry Month by presenting dramatic poetry readings. The gallery also will host the opening of “Order and Chaos,” featuring contemporary abstract paintings by C. Pat McClelland. A free Artist’s Talk will be held at the gallery at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 18. Pat will discuss his new body of work, as well as his inspiration and technique for art making.

Color of Energy, 16 Brown St., will feature local photographer Doug McLarty, who will present several new, uniquely designed nature photographs in an exhibit titled, “Conflict, Contrast & Obsession.” The show runs through April 29.

The Cannery Art and Design Center will feature “Nature Matters,” an exhibition of photography by Doug Taylor. For more on the CADC, visit

The Dayton Visual Arts Center will host a preview exhibit of its 16th Annual Art Auction, which will be held on April 24 and features more than 100 original artworks. For more on DVAC, visit

All the restaurants, retail shops, bars and clubs, Neon Movies, Wiley’s Comedy Club, Urban Krag and other establishments in the Oregon Arts District, Cannery and throughout downtown will be open.

Pacchia, 410 E. Fifth St., will offer a 15 percent discount on appetizers to First Friday attendees.

Therapy Café, 452 E. Third St., will present Eighties Night, a new monthly event featuring DJ Jay spinning ‘80s new wave and some ‘70s disco starting at 9 p.m.

The Downtown Dayton Partnership’s Web site,, has a complete list of downtown’s arts and cultural amenities, as well as a dining guide, parking map and much more.

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March 31, 2009
Volume 18, No. 13

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