‘The Merry Widow’ at Catholic University by Flora Scott

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Because Ward Recital Hall at Catholic University is an old ecclesial building originally intended as a facility for liturgical music, there will always be an undeniable piety in it’s structure and ambiance. It’s windows are now hindered and, as my eyes scanned the room, I could see in the lay of the brick where other structures intended have now been removed. But no matter how it’s altered, it will always be a church. It is in the buildings essence. The structure has a presence. Now, if I may, I would like to compare Catholic University’s production of Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow to this impermeable structure.

The voices in a operetta are the fundamental foundation of it’s purpose – the framework on which everything else that happens on the stage revolves. And like the building in which these voices soared, their voices were inextinguishable. No matter what else, no one will ever be able to deny the presence and prestige that each cast member carries in his/her voice. But like a church requires stained glass and a pulpit, a play requires good direction and acting.

Given that – I was disappointed that Director Allison Fuentes did not also work more with the singers on their acting. Emily Casey (Hannah), and Rafealito Ross (Camille), emerged as two natural performers. Emily not only sang with exquisite clarity and range, but there wasn’t an inorganic moment in her presence on stage as she seamlessly embodied the character of Hannah. Rafealito hurt my heart with the palpable grief that poured out in his only solo, and I wish he had more to sing.

Another answered prayer in the show was Bobby Gallagher’s Nische. He was fun to watch and had a natural instinct for comedy that could and should be cultivated. Liz Lalor (Valencienne), was also a standout in the cast. As far as integrating all the necessities for a well-rounded performance (singing, acting, dancing and synchronizing with the Orchestra in a subtle manner) she did a job well done, as did all the aforementioned, which I can only imagine to be a very difficult balancing act.

Speaking of the orchestra: Conductor Randall Stewart, violinist II YaShuana Swan Gerard Battle, Violist Ethan Miller, and cellist/clarinetist and Brian Wahrlich were heaven sent. Victoria Meyers, Mary Efimetz and Suhyun Kim’s costumes were divine.

We all have good days and not so good days. I’m sad to say that I think I caught Joseph Thordarson (Zeta), and Adam Sterling (Count Danilo) on a not so good day. God bless you, boys. It happens to the best of us.

Terrance Britt (Cascada) was cute and clever. And crafty. Greg Gardner’s Brioche: a job well done. Alex Ruhling (M. Kadia): keep up the good work. To Monica Rajan’s Syliane: you got it. Joseph Chee (Nova Kovich): I liked it. Catherine Purcell( Olga): I liked you very much. To Madelaine or Julia (Praskovia): that’s how ya do it. And last but not least, Drew Stairs (Willie/Englishman): Let me suggest a tad more enthusiasm -I noted you as the tall, quiet guy.

Dominic Traino’s minimalist set, unfortunately, did not contribute much. And please don’t use surtitles/subtitles if you don’t know how to do them. Because they rarely kept pace with what the singers were actually singing and because some of the ‘words’ were not what the singers were actually singing, it was extremely distracting.

Ward Recital Hall was materialized to be a church and nothing will ever be able to take the church out of that structure – regardless of what goes on in or around it. But for it to function as an actual church, there are other components to consider.

As for this young cast of The Merry Widow: Boy! Can they sing!

Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one intermission.

The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music’s The Merry Widow plays tonight at 7:30 pm and tomorrow at 2:00 pm at Ward Recital Hall on The Catholic University campus – 620 Michigan Avenue, NE, in Washington, DC. More information and directions are here.