‘La Boheme’ at Hub Opera Ensemble

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Starving artists, jealous relationships, chronic illnesses….. as brilliantly used in their marketing campaign, “the struggle is real” for the characters in Puccini’s La Boheme, currently running at Hub Opera Ensemble. Director Phillip Collister and Musical Director Andrew Rosenfeld have done a fantastic job breathing new life into a classic opera.

La Boheme is one of the most well-known operatic stories about a group of young, impoverished artists struggling to make ends meet while holding onto their artistic ideals in a Parisian garret. Relationships flourish and fall apart and the story is well known today as the basis for the rock musical Rent. The talented cast at Hagerstown Hub Opera beautifully brings the love story to life.

Gabrielle DeMers and Nicholas Simpson. Photo by Peck Hull Design.
Gabrielle DeMers and Nicholas Simpson. Photo by Peck Hull Design.

As leading lovers, Nicholas Simpson as Rodolfo and Gabrielle DeMers as Mimi were truly a perfect pair. Simpson has a smooth, deeply rich tenor voice and a powerful presence as the poet Rodolfo. DeMers is sweetly demure as ingenue seamstress Mimi and has a pure, lilting soprano voice. DeMers’ Act III aria “Donde Lieta Usci” when she was attempting to break up with Rodolfo was heartbreaking and left most of the audience in tears. Simpson and DeMers also had an effortlessly adorable onstage chemistry, making the tired “love at first sight”cliche actually believable.

Jason Buckwalter as artist Marcello was energetic and sincere. His physical comedy bits were hilarious and his gangly  stature and sharp comedic timing was extremely reminiscent of Neil Patrick Harris. As the scene stealing Musetta, Francesca Aguado truly commanded the center of attention in her scenes, especially with the vocally impressive “Musetta’s Waltz,” perhaps the most well known song from the opera.

Zain Shariff (Colline) and Joe Pleuss (Schaunard) rounded out the cast of Bohemians. Shariff’s dry, witty delivery was perfect for philosopher Colline. Pleuss was spry and delightfully over dramatic at times as musician Schaunard. The pair normally had to function as the comic relief in the midst of the opera’s main romantic relationships and they more than rose to the occasion.

Andrew Payne had a fantastic character voice in his dual roles as landlord Benoit and Musetta’s elderly lover, Alcindoro. His facial expressions as Benoit were uproariously funny and made the scene extremely entertaining.  Collister’s blocking for the four Bohemian friends was exceptional and all of their physical comedy bits were very well rehearsed and nearly perfectly timed. The confrontation between Simpson and Buckwalter in Act III was exceptional and the resulting tension showed both of the actors’ dramatic abilities very well.

Photo by Perk Hill Design
Jason Buckwalter, Andrew Payne, Nicholas Simpson, Joe Pleuss, and Zain Shariff. Photo by Perk Hull Design

Elizabeth Anderson, Natalie Bonham, Tami Branch, Donna Jo Conley, Casey Funderbruke, Mackenzie Gandee, Joshua Geblein, Sydney Gonsalves, Ethan Goodmansen, Krista Hastings, Bryanna Luke, Elizabeth Malone, Nadia McClain, Hunter Morningstar, Liam Nystrom, Kimberly Parr, Naiya Pollard, Aaron Powell, Shakiah Rideout, Ibey Rose, Alyssa Selin, Catie Snyder and Emily Thompson were excellent in various ensemble roles as the cafe patrons and street vendors.

Costumes, designed by Cynthia Wham, were simple but elegant. Every lead character was kept in a specific color throughout the show and costume pieces, such as jackets or shawls, were added as needed. The scenic design by Joseph Rathvon, was very detailed and the rotating platform set that changed between the main characters’ garret apartment and the cafe was very impressive, although some of the scene changes could occur a little faster to keep the audience’s attention engaged between acts.

 Francesca Aguado. Photo by Peck Hill Design.
Francesca Aguado. Photo by Peck Hull Design.

The opera is performed in the original Italian, with English subtitles on a projection screen above the stage and a very unique detail was projecting character description quotes from the script on a scrim onstage during scene transitions. La Boheme features a live orchestra to provide a gorgeously rich accompaniment to Puccini’s beautiful score.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

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La Boheme plays through May 30, 2015 at Hub Opera Ensemble performing at the Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Community College – 11400 Robinwood Drive, in Hagerstown, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

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