Lots of catchy numbers, great singing, some punny laughs, and a quick trip to Holland are only a few of the pleasures you will receive from seeing the very entertaining The Red Mill presented by The Victorian Lyric Opera Company (VLOC).
VLOC is partial to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, but The Red Mill by Victor Herbert fits right into their comedic operetta repertoire. Director Felicity Ann Brown did her research when putting together and directing this production, right down to looking into different staging used traditionally for a few of the numbers. One thing she ‘nailed’ was casting the comedic duo leads with Brian Polk as “Con” Kidder and Timothy Ziese as “Kid” Conner.
Polk and Ziese look like an old vaudeville act who know exactly the moments to hit for the laughs and sometimes even waiting for the rim shot from the pit. Kidder and Connor are two Americans being stereotypical Americans in Holland in the early 1900s. The plot unfolds as they cannot pay their bill at the little Red Mill Inn they are staying in and are forced to work off their debt. Trouble comes as they meddle in the town’s business and the hilarity ensues from there and does not end until the curtain falls.
“Whistle It” is their carefree approach to getting out of things and it was quite an amusing number with a choreographed boxing match, similar to the originally choreography of the show that was catered to the comedic duo of David Montgomery and Fred Stone. Polk and Ziese can give them a run for their money.
Playing opposite the Americans is the young couple Christian Van Damm (Patrick Philip Becker) and Gretchen (Emma Jensen). They long to be married against Gretchen’s father’s wishes. The couple provide some very tender moments in the show as they sing about the wonder of their love in “The Isle of our Dream,” when they dream of a time when they can be together.
Gretchen’s Aunt Bertha, played by Jennifer Rutherford, does all she can to allow the couple to be together. Rutherford is an extremely vocally talented member of the cast, and one of the most seasoned members of the cast. In the big opening number of the second act, “The Legend of the Mill” she belts out the story of this crazy little town to support the efforts of the young couple, but she steals the scene in the process. She stretches those limits pretty far to deny the wishes of her brother Jan Van Borkem (Tom Goods), the thoughtless mayor figure in the town, who pals around with the Franz, The Constable (Blaire Eig), and Willem, the Inn Keeper (Chuck Howell). The three keep the spirit light in show and are always willing to blame their problems on the women in the humorous “You Never Can Tell About a Woman.”
One of those fickle women demonstrated in the show is Tina, (Amanda Jones), the Inn Keeper’s daughter. She has no desire to learn her domestic duties and aspires to be a Shakespearean actress. This is Jones’ second production with VLOC this year; her first was in Iolanthe this past winter. She is a very feisty and talented performer and she contributes greatly to the spirited fun of the production. In “Mignonette,” Jones sang about how wonderful life could be as a celebrity and charms the local girls and you into believing it too. Tina’s heads may be in the clouds, but Jones know exactly what she is doing up there.
Almost a dozen other cast members round out the ensemble of the show, all displaying a great amount of vocal talent and endurance. Music Director Joseph Sorge prepared them and his fine orchestra well for such a demanding production, as there were many numbers that featured the ensemble members as local townsfolk.
The entire cast looks picture perfect in “traditional” Dutch clothes including a quieter version of bright yellow wooden shoes for the cast, designed by Costume Designer Sarah Martin. Those shoes matched the colorful set design created by Rebecca Meyerson, which included lots of traditional tulips all over the exterior of the Inn and a large traditional windmill, which is an integral plot and set piece. The one set functions for the entire play even though, traditionally, the second act takes place inside Van Jan Borkem’s home.
VLOC’s production of The Red Mill is very accessible because the entire show is in English (except for a few names and lyrics here and there). The lyrics are also projected on the proscenium on a small screen while being sung – and that assisted me in catching all the plot twists.
VLOC’s The Red Mill is a very well-performed and joyful production of an underrated operetta that should be produced more often.
Victorian Lyric Opera Company Revives Victor Herbert’s ‘The Red Mill’ 6/6-16 by Felicity Ann Brown.
Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
The Red Mill plays through June 16, 2013 at Victorian Lyric Opera Company at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre – 603 Edmonston Drive, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, purchase them online or at the door, or by calling the box office (240) 314-8690.