Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Abduction from the Seraglio Theatre Review

A 'family portrait' - Photo: Angelisa Gillyard

I didn't know what to expect from the In Series' adaptation of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio, the premiere presentation of the 2013-14 season of local "pocket operas." DC Outlook does its best to showcase a broad range of entertainment; but I'd be lying, if I told you classical music and opera were at the forefront of what we do, see and cover. For the record, I wasn't familiar with singspiels or even Mozart for that matter (yes, I saw Amadeus... no need to poke fun at my expense.) So please, take the following critique with several grains of salt.

Once I got over the shock of sitting inside the underrated Source Theatre on the first night of the NFL regular season, I settled into the nearly 2 1/2 hour play (including intermission) with a blank canvas and an open mind. First up, the introduction of conductor Stanley Thurston, who arrived cowboy hat in tow, to lead a five-person orchestra, cleverly tucked away inside the Langtry saloon. Moments later, we meet Lillie (Heather Bingham) a popular English actress who catches the eye of Judge Bean (Scott Sedar.) Lillie's "overcome with grief" but soon finds herself in even deeper water... kidnapped by Bean's henchmen, and held captive, presumably until she learns to return the Judge's one-sided affections, 'What Bean wants, Bean gets.' We'll see about that.

Hot on Lillie's trail is Belmont (Joseph Haughton) a Renfield-look-alike who's in love with Lillie and Hell-bent on securing her escape. His attempts at rescue are in a word... hysterical. 'Your Belmont is here!' as the wanna-be hero rides in to town on a stick pony (one of many interesting, sometimes moving props.) Unfortunately, the only moving going on here is between Belmont's legs (I'll let you read between the lines.) Belmont soon encounters the Judge's #1 enforcer, Osmond (Jeffrey Tarr) who's knee-deep in conflict with town "stud" Pedrillo (Nephi Sanchez.) Pedrillo befriends Belmont, and the duo goes about the long, arduous task of trying to wrestle Lillie away from the clutches of the "hanging judge."

Abduction from the Seraglio starts off with a bang, plenty of humor and even dancing girls (Woo!) It didn't take me long to get hooked into the story, flush with funny. Sedar cuts a menacing figure as the lovestruck judge, who slithers on stage... squinting with disapproval. You get the impression that Bean's the kind of guy who doesn't take rejection well; yet there he is, putting it on the line... only to have Lillie rebuke him at pretty much every turn. Unwilling to risk ticking him off, Lillie refuses to answer the Judge's pleas, until he coyly inquires, 'Maybe it would hurt a little less if you sing it.'

Scott Sedar as Judge Roy Bean, with Heather Bingham (r) as Lillie Langtry

Did someone say sing? You needn't ask twice, as Bingham dives into a long "I was happy, Oh, so happy," complete with booming, hard to discern vocals. Word to the wise: Opera is really, really hard to understand verbatim. I'd much rather see Abduction play out as... a play, instead of an opera combo. Thankfully, the first Act keeps a smart balance of humor, talk and singing. Not so much during Act II (there's a lot of singing folks... a lot.)

In between all those songs (did I mention there's a lot of singing?) Haughton & Sanchez delight with adorable looks and quips. The latter does this especially well; but flounders a bit, when called upon to sing solo. Speaking of singing, Pedrillo's love interest Blondie (played very well be CarrieAnne Winter) steals the show with a stirring "I'm as giddy as can be," by far the night's best vocal performance.

Although the show drags on a bit towards the end (You could argue it runs about 20 minutes too long... Well, at least I could) just the sight of Belmont's floppy hair and shiny bolo tie/cowboy belt buckle are enough to keep you vested until the end. Both Belmont & Pedrillo prove to be big crowd-pleasers: I laughed out loud at least half a dozen times... which is pretty good, especially for an opera.

Overall, I found Abduction from the Seraglio to be entertaining. I won't pretend to appreciate (or understand) opera; but I'm a quick learner. Maybe the In Series is just what the doctor ordered (or at least the judge.)

Grade: B (Plenty of non-opera fun to keep a guy like me entertained.)