Tuesday, January 29, 2013


**** (out of five)

Reviewed by James Karas

The story of Oscar Wilde’s trials, imprisonment and humiliation, in a word, his destruction, has been told countless times, yet it has lost none of its terrifying power to shock and disgust us.

David Hare took on the subject in his 1998 play, The Judas Kiss, which has been revived and is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London.

Hare picks up the story on the final day of Wilde’s first trial in which Wilde is the plaintiff in an action brought against the Marquess of Queensbury for libel. The Marquess had accused Wilde of posing as a sodomite. After a withering cross-examination of Wilde it became obvious that he was more than posing as a sodomite. The trial collapsed and Wilde was about to be charged with sodomy and gross indecency. The question arose: should Wilde flee abroad or stay and face almost certain conviction and imprisonment.

The first act of The Judas Kiss takes place in a hotel room in London where Wilde’s friend Robert Ross tries to persuade him to leave for the continent. The beautiful Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) whose father is persecuting Wilde argues that he should stay and fight. It is brilliant theatre. Witty, confrontational, and erudite with excellent development of character and situation. The three hotel workers provide great comic relief.

Rupert Everett gives an outstanding performance as Wilde. He bears an uncanny resemblance to the playwright and he is utterly convincing in his portrayal. Wilde on that fateful day appears defiant but he is in fact defeated. His eyes are deeply set in, he is unsteady on his feet, impetuous, at times irrational and drinking to excess. His wit has not deserted him and he pours out a large number of funny and perceptive lines. But his defeat seems so certain and so complete that he has ceased being a person and become a character in a drama that he is watching. He sees himself as a character whose fate has been planned by destiny. He is unable to accede to Ross’s rational advice and tosses his jacket on the floor in an act of defiance. He will wait for the police to arrest him.

If Fate decreed Wilde’s destiny, the more immediate cause was his homosexual affair with Bosie. Freddie Fox is simply superb in the role. Bosie is petulant, spoiled, arrogant, selfish, temperamental and pretty. The last attribute may be the only positive word that can be applied to him and many more pejorative ones can be marshaled to describe the little creep.

Holding the middle is Robert Ross played by Cal Macaninch. Ross was Wilde’s first homosexual lover and he is intelligent, rational and faithful. He puts up with abuse but stands his ground and never falters as a friend. A marvelous performance by Macaninch.

Hare provides three hotel workers in Arthur (Ben Hardy), Phoebe (Kristy Oswald) and Moffat (Alister Cameron). As I said, they provide some great humour and act as foils for the other characters. Kudos to all three for excellent work.

The problem arises in the second act. Wilde has served his prison sentence and is living in Naples with Bosie. The bravura of the defeated Wilde is gone. He is now dead. He sits in a chair almost throughout the whole act, wearing slippers on his bare feet. He is broke, dispirited and betrayed by everyone.

Bosie has taken up with an Italian stud and the two are having sex and going out as if Wilde does not exist. Ross visits and shows once again that he is a steady and generous friend. Bosie on the other hand is planning to return to England and reconcile with his mother who has promised him £300 per year.

Wilde has not lost all his wit but whatever comes out is a pale shadow even of the defeated man of the first act.

I found the second act a sharp drop from the first. The performances did not flag but adding the Italian stud Galileo (Tom Colley) who appears naked throughout the scene and speaks only in Italian, simply unsatisfactory.

The blame for that goes to Hare and not to director Neil Armfield who mounts a riveting production of a play that recalls one of the most shameful episodes in British history

The Judas Kiss by David Hare opened on January 22 and will play until April 6, 2013 at the Duke of York’s Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2. Tel: 0844 871 7623

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


***** (out of five)

Reviewed by James Karas

Julies Caesar, now running at the Donmar Warehouse in London, has an all-female cast and there may be people who consider that important or noteworthy. It deserves mention if only to remind us of the all-male productions of Shakespeare plays in the West End.. What counts is that this is a brilliant production; a leap of the creative imagination and acting ability that provide for riveting and memorable theatre.

It is different from anything most of us who have seen and studied the play can imagine. Forget the togas and Greek columns and all the classical allusions we are used to. In fact it is probably impossible to find such a traditional production any more.

This is a production that is almost a parody of the play. I say that without a hint of adverse criticism. Despite the fact that there are numerous line cuts, the spirit of the play is maintained. Let me elaborate.

Where is the play set? The production is being put on in a prison by women inmates. That much we can figure out but where they think the action takes place is more difficult determine. The inmates wear their prison garb; there are television monitors around but we cannot be sure if they are props for the play or prison security equipment. They use toy plastic guns and some of them wear face masks that are usually worn by terrorists. The inmates produce Julius Caesar and they set it somewhere in the modern world because that is all the props that they have or because they see it as a modern play?

The production is under the watchful eye of the guards and when the actors get out of line they are ordered to behave. When Cassius tells us it’s his birthday, the inmates who are putting on the play burst out singing “Happy Birthday To You” and are told to knock it off. When the play finishes the prison guards come out and tell the cast that they have five minutes to clear out.

Needless to say, the inmates have very few props to work with and the play is put on in an empty prison room or perhaps yard.

The unlikely concept works because the “inmates” are hugely talented. Shakespeare provides the plot and the language – especially the language – and the set, the setting and all the other theatrical paraphernalia become of secondary importance when the words, be they poetry or prose, are delivered with emotional conviction, force and proper diction.

It is here that director Phyllida Lloyd and the cast excel. Frances Barber, wearing a beret and a leather coat, exemplifies the arrogant Caesar while maintaining her identity as a prisoner. When Cassius, whom he distrusts, goes to Caesar’s house, the latter, acting like an arrogant dictator or a prison bully, stuffs a bagel in his mouth. The Roman dictator and the prison thug become inseparable.

Harriet Walter is a lean and tall Brutus. She is principled, honourable and delivers her lines with superb conviction. A fine performance indeed.

Cassius, the scheming political animal, is played by Jenny Jules and again you feel she is playing the inmate as well as the Roman patrician.

Cush Jumbo is a baby-faced Mark Antony who can deliver Shakespearean lines with precision and marvelous intonation. His Funeral Oration is beautifully nuanced. This girl may be in jail but she has found her forte, it seems.

I will not list all the roles but will pay them the highest compliment most notably for the duality of the characters that the actors played. They are prisoners and characters in Julius Caesar and we are always aware of it.

The play is cut to a little over two hours with no intermission and we are never allowed to forget that we are in prison. That duality together with sure-handed directing and strong acting made for a riveting night at the theatre.

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare opened on November 30, 2012 and continues until February 9, 2013 at Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, London, England.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas

*** (out of five)

Everyone has heard of the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull creature who was slain by Theseus. We also know that he used a ball of twine given to him by Ariadne in order to get out of the labyrinth where the Minotaur resided.

How was the Minotaur conceived? His mother, Queen Pasiphae, developed an overpowering lust for a white bull. She disguised herself as a cow and had sex with the bull. The result was The Minotaur.

The myth is absolutely arresting and I need hardly say that it can be interpreted many ways but has anyone wondered what the Minotaur may have thought? He was half-man after all.

Composer Harrison Birtwistle and Librettist David Harsent have thought about it and written an opera to give us their answer to the question and provide us with some details about the gory and fascinating story of Theseus and Ariadne.

The opera premiered in 2008 and it has been revived by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden for five performances during January 2013.

The Minotaur is divided into thirteen scenes from the arrival of Theseus with the young men and women from Athens, called the Innocents, who will be devoured by the Minotaur. It ends with the death of the Minotaur.

The myth and its recreation by Harsent could not be more dramatic. There is the one-way love story between Theseus and Ariadne (or is she just using him to escape from Crete), the rape, murder and bloody devouring of the Innocents by Keres, the death spirits, a visit to the Oracle and much more.

The most fascinating part of the opera is the treatment of the Minotaur’s human half. While dreaming the Minotaur is able to speak and recall a different world and a different past. In the end, Theseus wounds him mortally and the Minotaur becomes fully aware of who he is and his past before he dies.

The scenes move seamlessly from the seashore where Ariadne greets Theseus’s ship to the Labyrinth below with a side trip to the Oracle. The seashore is indicated by a ship’s mast and a sandbar. The Labyrinth looks like a bullfighting ring, dark and forbidding with the scary Keres on raised benches. There is a video projection of billowing and perilous waves that we see several times.

Bass Sir John Tomlinson dominates the performance even though he does not seem to have the most notes to sing. He wears a wire mesh mask of a bull and sings a very demanding role with superb control. At age 66 and 35 years after his debut at Covent Garden, his performance was a marvel.

Mezzo soprano Christine Rice tackles the role of Ariadne which is vocally demanding and requires her to coax Theseus into taking her to Athens while facing her own past.

Baritone Johan Reuter gives a fine performance as Theseus. He has some very dramatic scenes that require vocal stamina and acting ability and he did very well.

Scenically and dramatically, then, this is quite an extraordinary work and Director Stephen Langridge gets first-class kudos for his work.

What about the music? This is a modern opera and it has modern music. The music is dramatic, wild, dissonant, with extensive use of percussion. The singing is stentorian wailing, rises to fever pitch and becomes calmer at times. The opera is written through of course and at times you feel that you are listening to very long recitative. The idea of melodic singing or music does not exist.

There are many things I can say about the opera and the extraordinary playing by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under Ryan Wigglesworth and the singing and performance of the Royal Opera Chorus under Renato Balsadonna. All complimentary in their way but what I cannot say is that I really enjoyed the music.

There is no accounting for some people’s taste.

The Minotaur by Harrison Birtwistle opened on January 17 and will be performed five times until January 28, 2013 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. www.roh.org.uk

Friday, January 18, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas

The Magistrate is Arthur Wing Pinero’s 1885 farce and it has received a major revival by the National Theatre in a production directed by Timothy Sheader. The production has many virtues but one aspect stands out above all others: the design.

It is indeed a rarity to start a review with mention of the design but in this case a major part of the feel and flavour of the production rests on the work Katrina Lindsay.

The play opens with a Gilbert & Sullivan-type of chorus singing about skeletons in the closet. This is not in the original script but part of the text revisions by Stephen Beresford. We are supposed to be in the well-furnished drawing room in a house in Bloomsbury. Dark paneling, heavy furniture, velvet drapes is what you would expect in the house of a Magistrate in the 19th century.

Lindsay places the sparsely furnished, brightly lit drawing room in a papier-mâché toy theatre. It is a model theatre that has been enlarged to fit the Olivier stage of the National Theatre, if you will. In fact, the drawing room and the two other scenes in the play will rise from below stage as if the production is just a child’s play.

The design sets the tone of an enjoyable lark, a plaything on stage and thus is the play delivered to the audience.

Happily the inventiveness does not stop there. The farce involves a highly respectable magistrate who goes to a hotel where he shouldn’t (as does his wife) and next day he ends up sending his wife to jail for seven days. Don’t worry about the plot – it’s a farce.

Where does the fun come from? Director Timothy Sheader gets the lion’s share of the credit for putting together a marvelously paced production full of hilarious stunts. Along with Lindsay, he has created almost a new work out of Pinero’s play.

John Lithgow plays Mr. Posket, the straight-laced magistrate who finds himself in all kinds of scrapes. Lithgow goes further than acting the shocked straight man. In Act III, the poor man arrives at his office after spending a good part of the night running away from the police. Here Posket describes the chase and Lithgow give a hilarious performance that is full of inventiveness and physicality that goes beyond what the text calls for. Give him an award just for that scene.

The farce emanates from the lies told by his wife Agatha played hilariously by Nancy Carroll. Posket is her second husband and she lied about her age and consequently about the age of her son. Now she is in danger of being found out. Shocking!. Carroll is given plenty of opportunities for screaming, screeching and in fact permissibly over-acting. This is a farce.

Causing much of the fray is her son Cis (Joshua McGuire) who is supposed to be 14 but chronologically and hormonally is much older. McGuire is physically agile as he jumps over furniture and chases Beatie, the pretty music teacher (Sarah Ovens). An exuberant performance.

The high-powered production is carried by a cast of feverish performers. Worthy of praise: Nicholas Blane as Magistrate Bullamy, Don Gallagher as the hotel proprietor, Jonathan Coy as Colonel Lukyn, Nicholas Burns as Captain Vale and Alexander Cobb as the servant Wyke. With his hair sticking up, Cobb has to run almost all the time to great comic effect.

Farce depends on quick action, quicker reaction, slamming of doors, misses and near-misses. The Magistrate has all of those things in spades providing a wonderful evening at the theatre.


The Magistrate by Arthur Wing Pinero opened on November 21, 2012 and continues at the Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, South Bank, London, England. http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas

In the opening lines of Uncle Vanya, one of the main characters, Dr. Astrov, tells us that he finds life “boring and senseless and sordid.” You know immediately that you are in Anton Chekhov country, this time marvelously portrayed at the Vaudeville Theatre, London in a production directed by Lindsay Posner.

Dr. Astrov is not the only one who is bored and unhappy. We are on a country estate in Russia, surrounded by vanishing forests and some very smart people who do very little and are pretty much useless. When Chekhov sub-titled the play “Scenes from Country Life” he meant a portrait of Russia.

Vanya of the title (played superbly by Ken Stott) runs the estate which is owned by his brother-in-law Alexander, a retired professor. Vanya is portly, dispirited, bored and feeling old. He has nothing to look back on or forward to. He is uncle to Sonya only, the daughter of his dead sister who was married to the professor. (It is interesting that the play is named after him and emphasizes his connection to her.) Stott presents a tousled, confused Vanya, quite lost in his world in a performance that makes the 19th century Russian comprehensible in the 21st century. A major performance.

Samuel West plays the bored and miserable Dr. Astrov. He is still young but his ennui is just as great as Vanya’s. Like Vanya he falls in love with Yelena, the professor’s young and beautiful wife. He is rejected and settles for the torpor that is or he has made his life. A convincing performance by West.

Yelena is the catalyst in the play. She has been brought from the city to her husband’s estate and like the others she is bored with life. Astrov and Vanya pursue her with protestations of love but she rejects both of them. Anna Friel looked indeed young and beautiful but I thought she should be a bit more regal or standoffish. At times Friel tended to speak very quickly and did not provide enough contrast to her step-daughter Sonya.

Sonya is supposed to be plain, awkward and in love with Astrov. Laura Carmichael did not look plain at all and she seemed to be able to stand her own ground against Yelena in terms of looks and demeanor. she shows emotional depth in her expression of love for Astrov. In the end, she does move away spiritually from the others by imagining a brighter future. She provides the optimism that her uncle lacks.

Paul Freeman was very good as the blustering, crotchety and demanding retired professor. He is accused by Vanya of having produced nothing worthy in all his years of teaching but somehow he managed to marry a gorgeous woman mores than half his age.

I found the sets designed by Christopher Oram more workmanlike than inspired. The first act takes place in the estate garden and there should be a sense of expanse but here it looked like the back of a cottage.

The dining room and the other two rooms in the house that the rest of the play is set in looked appropriate.

Posner has done a generally outstanding job. Christopher Hampton’s translation humanizes the dialogue and the characters speak like people instead of stuffed shirts. Many productions and translations of Chekhov fall into the trap of making the characters speak English as if they are translating from Russian, not least of which is the use of those annoying patronymics.

Posner has directed a humane, approachable and highly enjoyable production of this classic.
Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov in a translation by Christopher Hampton opened on October 25, 2012 and continues at the Vaudeville Theatre, 404 Strand, London, England.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas

We all know that Dido, Queen of Carthage, facilitated the founding of the Roman Empire by giving refuge to its founder Aeneas who had just escaped from the flames of Troy. The Greeks had pulled a fast one by giving the Trojans a gift of a wooden horse which happened to be full of Greeks who torched the city.

The subject has proven irresistible to many artists not least to Hector Berlioz who retold the story in Les Troyens, his massive opera that lasted well over five hours as shown Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera. 

Les Troyens requires orchestral, vocal and scenic resources that would bankrupt many small countries if they can even find such talent. The Metropolitan Opera has more resources than many countries and it provides a production on a grand scale.

There are two parts to Les Troyens, one set in Troy at the end of The Trojan War and another part set in Carthage where Aeneas stops on his way to Italy. The large cast is dominated by three soloists and a large chorus.

Cassandra, a prophetess and one of the daughters of King Priam, dominates the Trojan portion. She knows that Troy is about to be destroyed but her fate is not to be believed by anyone. The role requires a powerful voice and the evocation of deep emotional turmoil and desperate pleading in the face of ignorance and indifference. Soprano Deborah Voigt has the vocal power and stamina to sing and act the doomed Cassandra in a stunning performance.

She is not alone. Baritone Dwayne Croft is highly effective as her fiancée Coroebus as is tenor Bryan Hamel as Aeneas but the latter’s turn really comes in the second half of the opera.

The other star of the first half is the great Metropolitan Opera Chorus and here Berlioz provides some magnificent music.

The set, designed by Maria Bjarnson, looks like a primitive fortress in the first half of the opera. There is a hole in the roof and I got the impression that it had been bombed. Unfortunately, one cannot get a completely accurate view on the big screen. Director for Cinema Barbara Willis Sweete lets the camera pan across the stage and gives us good views of the chorus and singers but I am not sure if we ever get a full view of the entire stage.

The scene in Carthage is of a much more civilized society but there are no columns or statues in either part of the opera to indicate any classical connections. Troy and Carthage, in other words, are ancient societies that can be almost anywhere.

The second part of the opera is dominated by Dido (mezzo Susan Graham) and Aeneas. It is a love story complicated by the fact that Aeneas cannot stay – he has to go to Italy and get the Roman Empire started. Before he does that, Hymal delivers some spectacular singing as the tortured lover. Even more spectacular is Graham’s performance.

Not much is happening in Carthage, so Dido puts on a ballet to entertain Aeneas and it turns out to be such an interminable bore that she herself is not amused. She then asks Iopas (tenor Cutler) to entertain them and he does sing a rather insipid   Ô blonde Cérès.

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under Fabio Luisi performed heroically and magnificently.

The production is a revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2003 staging and it seems to bring out the best in the opera. As I said. one has limited access to the visual possibilities of the production but there is no doubt that this is opera on a grand scale.. At times I felt that the opera is simply too big for the theater screen and I wonder what the effect was at Lincoln Centre.

The opera is rarely performed but critics describe it as a masterpiece without hesitation. I will not argue with them but will assert that there are some boring sections and I could have done without the ballets.

And, oh yes, in the spring of 146 BC a Roman army under Scipio Africanus razed Carthage to the ground. He said he did to Carthage what the Greeks did to Troy.

Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz was shown Live in HD on January 5, 2013 at The Beach Cinemas, 1651 Queen Street East, Toronto, ON, M4L 1G5 and other theatres across Canada. For more information: www.cineplex.com/events

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas

 Something unique and almost incredible happened at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts last Friday – there was a production of a play based on a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. The play is He Who Must Die and it is an adaptation by Michael Antonakes of Kazantzakis’ 1948 novel Christ Recrucified, better known as The Greek Passion.

I make no secret of my excitement about seeing a play by Kazantzakis on stage, even an adaptation of one of his great novels. The production, directed by Andrea Emmerton, is done almost entirely by amateur actors, has numerous strengths and displays some of the inevitable weaknesses of that acting pool.

Antonakes has shaped a marvellous play from the complex novel. He takes the two intertwined stories that happen in a fictional Turkish-occupied Greek village in Asia Minor in 1923 to create a dramatic situation that leads to a catastrophic climax with the inevitability of Greek tragedy.

The village elders of Lykovrissi choose four men to enact the Passion of Christ. A simple villager named Manolios (John Tokatlidis) is chosen to play Christ. Kostantes (Tom Anastasios Haralambidis) is to play St. Peter and Michalis (Justin Borrow) to play St. John. Panayotaros (Bill Chambers) is to play Judas Iscariot while Katerina (Katerina Taxia), the village slut, plays Mary Magdalene. These five are to prepare for a performance of the Passion at Easter.

The other plot strand concerns arrival of some refugees from another village who seek the help of the inhabitants of Lykovrissi. The two groups clash with the people of Lykovrissi throwing out the refugees. The Christ-playing and Christ-like Manolios takes the side of the refugee and the tragedy develops from there.

The play, as the title makes clear, is deeply religious and especially moral. It takes us back to the beginning of Christianity with reference not only to the life of Christ but also to the lives of the first Christians who lived in the catacombs. The life of the 20th century actors in the Passion play, the villagers and the refugees have parallels with the life of Christ far more intimate than a simple re-enactment of the Crucifixion.

The central figure of the play is the Christ-figure Manolios. Tokatlidis plays Manolios as a simple man who displays decency, faith, even fervour without being sanctimonious. A well-balanced performance that does justice to the character.

Capetan Fortounas is a likeable and sensible former sailor and member of the Village Council. Peter Shipston exudes Fortounas’s humanity, decency and humour. Fortounas is no great churchgoer, it seems, but when Manolios is excommunicated, he is the only one that would light a candle for him.

Bill Chambers’ Judas seethes with violence and wildness as becomes the greatest betrayer in history. The two priests play major roles in the play. The bad priest Father Grigoris played by Pat Elia was unconvincing. He was clean-shaven with short hair and that was the first mistake made by Emmerton. The visual incongruity was accentuated by weak acting. This Father Grigoris was neither a firebrand zealot nor a cunning cleric. He was low-keyed, almost business-like most of the time and his evil was more to be assumed than seen and felt.

Father Fotis, the good priest and leader of the refugees was more convincing physically but again a better beard and longer hair would have enhanced his priestly appearance. Tim Nasiopoulos looked quite the rebel and was good in the role.

Steve Kastoras as Archon Patriarcheas was more petulant than strong. He should be a more powerful character than Emmerton allows him to be. In fact, there is no commanding or domineering character in the production at all.

Justin Barrow’s Michalis was decent and devout and Haralambidis’s Kostantes was hen-pecked and comical.

Special mention is deserved by mezzo soprano Arianna Chris who was dressed in a beautiful, traditional costume (most of the others wore peasant outfits) and sang a lovely “Christos Anesti.” This is the Resurrection Hymn that one usually hears sung in blissful cacophony by the mass of people in the church parking lot on Easter Sunday.

Emmerton quite properly allowed all of the actors to speak in their natural Ontario accents. Most of the actors are non-Greek and you could tell who they were from the way they accented Greek names. The only one who spoke with a pronounced accent was Sal Aquila as the Turkish Agha. This Turkish overlord was more of a blusterer than a domineering conqueror.

The use of microphones has become commonplace in the production of musicals and Emmerton uses them in this production as well. The 631-seat Richmond Hill Centre seems small enough to make the use of mikes unnecessary but one must assume that some of the actors could not project their voices to the back of the theatre.

The advantage of the use of mikes is that everyone can be heard clearly. The disadvantage is that all voices come from a central speaker and you lose perspective of who is speaking. The mikes add a note of artificiality to the performance that takes away from the feel of live theatre.

Whatever the criticisms, this was a significant production and a reminder that Kazantzakis’s work for the theatre has been almost completely ignored. Antonakes’s successful adaptation is highly producible and one can only hope that a professional company will stage it. If the Stratford Shakespeare Festival can stage Austen, Dostoyevsky, Dumas and Robertson Davies, surely it can do the same for Kazantzakis.


He Who Must Die by Michael Antonakes based on The Greek Passion by Nikos Kazantzakis was performed six times between January 4 and 6, 2013 at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Preforming Arts, 10268 Yonge St. Richmond Hill, Ont. For more information go to http://www.HeWhoMustDie.com/ or 905-787-8811


Wednesday, January 2, 2013


                       Leslie Ann bradley and Adam Luther in The Merry Widow. Photo:Gary Beechey.

Reviewed by James Karas

If you are producing operetta it is hard to stay away from Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow. Toronto Operetta Theatre does not intend to ignore this masterpiece of the genre and it is offering an enjoyable production to bid farewell to 2012 and usher in the New Year.

The production, directed by TOT’s General Director Guillermo Silva-Marin, generates energy and laughter along with Lehár’s melodies, lilting music and wonderful ensembles. Like all TOT productions, this Merry Widow is done within the limitations imposed by the Jane Mallett Theatre, a threadbare budget and an orchestra (under the enthusiastic baton of Derek Bate) that is no more than a band. But let’s look upon the donut and not upon the whole.

A reality check, please. There is a Balkan country on the verge of financial collapse. One of its citizens, Anna Glawari, has struck it rich and the Fatherland can be saved from going over the fiscal cliff if she marries a fellow compatriot and keeps her money at home. Subscribers to Foreign Affairs will have guessed that we speak of the famous Kingdom of Pontevedro. Ignoramuses have fingered another country.

Soprano Leslie Ann Bradley makes a convincing merry widow in many ways. She is attractive,  lively as becomes the moniker that precedes her marital status and has a lovely voice that does well in the comic songs as well as the gorgeously melodic “Vilja.”

As becomes an attractive woman with an extremely attractive bank account, Anna is pursued by many men but the real suitor is the playboy Count Danilo. Adam Luther looks like a playboy who is ready to get married and settle down. That is good because we do not want a scatterbrain to marry our heroine for her money and disappear. Vocally he was good without any attempts at scaling heights.

We also have a merry wife in Valencienne (Elizabeth Beeler), the spouse of Ambassador Zeta. She is mature woman of upstanding character who flirts lightly with Vicomte de Rosillon. Beeler has a full, luscious voice and her Valencienne managed to outsing and outsmart  her husband and her suitor. Keith Klassen as Rosillon and David Ludwig as the Ambassador were not at their vocal best on opening night.

Tenor Joseph Angelo has the role of Njegus, the Secretary at the Embassy and he deserves credit for generating a great deal of laughter. He twists his face, does double takes and races around in a funny performance.

There are a number of other characters who provide some humour and singing. There are differences in acting and singing abilities. Most of the laughs come through if not always successfully and the singing takes flight but it rarely soars. There is a baker’s dozen of a vocal ensemble which sounded wonderful

The action takes place in Paris at the Pontevedrian Embassy, Glawari’s residence and at Maxim’s. The Embassy has a few leather chairs and some furnishings but it looks like the fiscal crisis has already has had its effect. Anna Glawari may have struck it rich quite recently because she simply has not had time to furnish her apartment. Maxim’s has a few tables but that’s about all.

The costumes from Malabar were quite good. The men are in tuxes with medals where appropriate; the women in very nice gowns representing a world long gone.

Silva-Marin does not treat the text sacrosanctly. He adds all sorts of anachronistic references from emails to tweets, from Mayor Ford to the Gardiner Expressway, from Obama to Ahmadinejad, to the IMF and much more. All in good fun.

One cannot ignore the hole in the donut but if you concentrate on the sweet taste of the thing you will have a good evening at the operetta.  

The Merry Widow by Franz Lehár opened on December 28, 2012 and will run until January 6, 2013 at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  (416) 922-2912. www.torontooperetta.com