In “The Student Prince” young love blossoms in Old Heidelberg as the betrothed heir to the throne goes off to a university, only to fall for a beautiful waitress in the local beer garden.
No this is not a plot to the latest National Lapoon film but actually the story that the 1924 Sigmund Romberg and Dorothy Donnelly operetta is based on and minus that small detail the rest of the show is structured with a glittering production by Light Opera Works that opened Saturday night at Cahn Auditorium and runs until August 28th.
In the German kingdom of Kalsberg, the young prince Karl Franz sung in glorious voice by William Bennett takes a year off from his impending marriage and ascension to the throne. In his travels he brings his lifelong confidant and educator, the kindly Doctor Engel, played by Bill Stone, who is the type of mentor anyone would want, who also happens to posses some power house pipes. Along for the ride and to the benefit of the production is Karl Franz's valet Lutz and his footman Hubert. As Hubert Mark Anderson has some delightful moments and would normally have much more singled out but opposite a scene chewing criminal such as Dale Benson as Lutz all is lost to him. A Chicago stage legend that I grew up with at the old Candlelight/Forum Theatre's Mr. Benson's knows just the right performing style for this type of show, taking each line and making it memorable. In the second and third act he's joined by Jody Goldman another pro at milking the right tone for these scenes, their work here a lesson in comedy.
In every Operetta there is a fiery soprano and here she is played by Danielle M. Knox, looking very similar to Chicago actress Susan Moniz, she inhabits here role with warmth and charm and enough trills to impress the audience. One wishes she was just a little bit stronger of a fiery presence to see why everyone in the town in captivated by her but those are small potatoes compared to everything. The other female lead of Princess Margaret is played with grace and dignity by Stephanie Stockstill.
The rest of the principals and large chorus handle everything with precision and ease from the 26 member orchestra that's conducted with expertise by Roger L. Bingaman, who makes you feel like he has a strong handle on some difficult music.
The pacing and the sequences of the show felt like they could have been snapped up a bit but overall the direction by Rudy Hogenmiller is solid, he also manages to pull off the difficult task of making a show that could be stuffy and slightly out of place and is able to make it entertaining and relate able to a contemporary audience.
It's interesting to note that the show was the longest running show on Broadway in the 1920s, beating the far more popular and much more enduring musical Show Boat. It's a joy that Light Opera Works took this piece on and presented it as its not done around here anymore and I commend them for putting together a wonderful production with some of the best resources at their disposal.
LIGHT OPERA WORKS presents The Student Prince Opening Saturday August 20th and playing Sunday August 21st at 2pm, Wednesday the 24th at 2pm, Friday the 26 at 8pm, Saturday the 27th at 8pm and Sunday the 28th at 2pm. It's playing at the Cahn Auditorium at 600 Emerson Street, Evanston, Il with tickets on the Main Floor for $48, $68, $77, and $92, The Balcony for $32, $48, $68, $77 ages 21 and younger half price.
Tickets can be order by either calling (847) 869-6300 or though the website at http://www.lightoperaworks.com/
As a completely unrelated note I did keep thinking while watching “The Student Prince” how I would kill to see a production of Alan Jay Lerner and Kurt Weill's rarely done “Love Life” and possibly a revival of “Lady in the Dark” with Mary Ernster as Liza, other classic shows that bridge the gap from Musical Theater to Opera. I know Light Opera Works has tackled “Lady in the Dark” before but with America's obsession with exploring there dreams might off set the woman are only happy with the right man aspects. As “Love Life” a show that has been done only a few times spans the American Dream's 150 years, if they could at all pair that up with Leonard Bernstein's “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” another problematic show with stunning music, people from all around would come.