Review: ‘Operetta Wonderland: The Magic of Victor Herbert’ at The In Series

Photo by Angelisa Gillyard

It’s hard to resist the charm and humor of a good operetta. Though the form has been less popular recently, The In Series is doing its part to revive the legacy of Victor Herbert—one of the genre’s most beloved and prolific composers—with Operetta Wonderland: The Magic of Victor Herbert. Director Brian J. Shaw takes the audience on a magical journey through some of Herbert’s greatest hits in what is a perfect show to ring in the holidays.

Music Director Carlos C. Rodríguez, who offers the piano accompaniment, starts off with “Toyland” from the classic Babes in Toyland—recognizable to many who may not be familiar with Victor Herbert’s larger oeuvre. Cara Gonzalez’ lovely soprano voice is lent to this song, where she is eventually joined by the rest of the cast for this rousing opener.

Photo by Angelisa Gillyard

There were a few numbers which stood out, though the six cast members are all incredibly talented and there wasn’t a weak song (or voice) in the bunch. Joe Haughton’s performance of “Love Me, Love My Dog” leans into the inherent humor of the material. Director Shaw allows the singers to “ham it up” while recognizing that this adds contextual value, charm, and significance to these somewhat dated works.

Music Director Rodríguez takes a bombastic turn on the instrumental “March of the Toys”. He plays with passion and skill, which at times seems to make his lone piano seem much larger—almost orchestral—bolstered by his ability to convey emotion through the music.

Mezzo-soprano Elise Jenkins beautifully renders “‘Neath the Southern Moon”. Her voice is gentle and seductive, and when Cara Gonzalez emerges for “Angelus”, the two reprise their solos in a sweet, surprise ending for both songs. Both Jenkins and Gonzalez possess the gravitas to bolster this tender moment and elevate it in a way that makes it very special.

Photo by Angelisa Gillyard

Lyric coloratura soprano Kelley Curtain shows off her skills during “Art is Calling For Me”. Curtain is the very definition of someone who “sings like a bird” and this makes for a wonderful interplay in contrast to the unique voices of Jenkins and Gonzalez, who also participate in this number.

Bryan Jackson takes “Puff Puff Puff”, a silly song from a show called Miss Dolly Dollars to new comedic heights, while Andrew Adelsberger does the same with “I Want What I Want When I Want It”. This material may seem trite to the modern ear and much of the humor rests entirely on gender stereotypes, but it speaks to the strengths of the performers that leaning in to some of these elements allows them a chance to excel and create such an enjoyable revue.

Of course, favorites from Herbert’s Naughty Marietta, such as “I’m Falling in Love With Someone” and “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” are included in the show.

Photo by Angelisa Gillyard

Costume Designer Donna Breslin helps to round out the evening with sumptuous designs. The materials and styles are loud and conform well to the period from which the music originated. Likewise, Lighting Designer Marianne Meadows and Set Designer Jonathan Dahm Robertson have created a few surprises of their own for this magical evening of music.

Operetta Wonderland: The Magic of Victor Herbert is a playful romp through Herbert’s works and showcases how The In Series continues to be a leader in bringing unique productions to the D.C. area. Operetta Wonderland highlights the strengths of the company while providing an enjoyable holiday escape for fans of Victor Herbert and for those just looking for some warmth, respite, and humor in this busy season.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission

Operetta Wonderland: The Magic of Victor Herbert plays through December 2, 2018, at The D.C. Scottish Rite Temple—2800 16th Street NW, in Washington, DC. Tickets can be purchased online.