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The Circus Princess

Music by Emmerich Kalman

The Circus Princess by Chicago Folks Operetta at chopin theatre
The Circus Princess by Chicago Folks Operetta

Libretto by Julius Brammer & Alfred Grrunwald

Translated by Gerald Frantzen & Hersh Glagov

Directed by Bill Walters

Conductor Anthony Barrese

Produced by Chicago Folks Operetta

At Chopin Theatre, Chicago

One of the great Viennese operettas – The Circus Princess – a major triumph for Chicago Folks Operetta company!

Playing in rotation with their other terrific operetta,  The Cousin from Nowhere , the ambitious folks at Chicago Folks Operetta have mounted a fabulous production of the 1926 Viennese operetta, The Circus Princess.  Forget the earlier reviews of  The Circus Princess shown on various Chicago print and Online publications because the folks at Chicago Folks Operetta have listen and corrected the main criticism of their opening night production.  Cuts of 30 minutes and a tighter, smoother sung show now awaits.  It is refreshing to witness a company so dedicated to their art, that they would make changes quickly in their quest for perfection. At the June 22, 2012 performance, The Circus Princess played as a fast paced, well sung lavishly dressed and exquisitely sounded operetta in the best traditions of the Vienna form.

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Among the qualities that make The Circus Princess work are the expert translation of the libretto and lyrics by Gerald Frantzen and Hersh Glagov. These two have a cottage industry going making classic and relatively unknown Viennese and Berlin 20th Century operettas stage worthy to  English speaking audiences. We now can enjoy the magnificent music from the likes of Emmerrich Kalman (The Circus Princess) and Eduard Kunneke (The Cousin from Nowhere) among others. These translations contain all the wit, charm, bite and perfect rhythms from the original German that make  the operetta’s  words and lyrics appear to be original English works. This is the key to the brilliance of Frantzen and Glaagov’s work.

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Also, the use of 15-20 plus musicians with lavish original orchestrations and the casting of polished  classically trained singer/actors dressed authentically in period costumes with a sprawling set complete with location enhancing videos, give The Circus Princess a spectacle feel. Did I mention the generous use of Circus clowns and an aerial act?  This show has glamor to spare. The singers belt enough that amplification is not need.

The musical score by Emmerich Kalman is on a par with Franz Lehár. Kalman’s music in The Circus Princess is more varied and accomplished that Lehár’s The Merry Widow. Kalman’s mastery of the waltz is present  as is his use of  the melancholy czardas of his native Hungary. He also uses American jazz forms including fox trot and Charleston dance rhythms. Of course, in The Circus Princess has several Russian sounding tunes  plus circus oriented marches and grand entrance dances. There are ballads, anthems, funny ditties and lavish love songs. You can feel the romance in the air in Kalman’s music. This is a terrific score . Too bad Americans have waited 85 years to her this accomplished score.

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The story, set in Saint  Petersburg, Russia,  has an operetta plot containing a  mélange of mistaken identities, secrets and scheming scorned lovers that together with  the lovesick milquetoast, dreamy ingenue, and the classy aristocrat woman with a count turned circus performer.  We find Mr. X (the rich tenor and charismatic Gerald Frantzen) sparing with the Grand Duke (the commanding baritone Bill McMurray) over Feodora (Carla Janzen). Plus Viennese native  Tony (the wining Tyler Thompson) travels to Russia to court Mabel Gibson (Alison Kelly) a circus performer. The intrigue and rivalry for love and revenge is played out with panache and deft aplomb as the strong voices produce melodious sounds including powerful voices as up to 20 singers vocalize the lush music and the fine lyrics. The love duets with Franzen and Janzen and those from Thompson and Kelly were extremely romantic in that Nelson Eddy/Janette McDonald style. The comic touch of Sean-Edward D. Hall as the quirky waiter Pelikan was a hoot!

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The Circus Princess is an outstanding, mind-blowing spectacle that vividly demonstrates the glory and artistry of  20th Century Viennese operetta.  A romantic, tuneful, richly sung spectacle awaits at Chopin Theatre. Lovers of operetta and old-time Broadway musicals will cherish this production. Hurry, it will only be playing through July 1, 2012. Kudos to Chicago Folks Operetta for giving us a taste of European operetta as their English translations and their tight production values make for a first class theatrical experiences for a low ticket price of $30 – $40. This production is a true “seeing is believing” experience. Once you see either The Circus Princess and/or their The Cousin from Nowhere – you’ll be a fan of Chicago Folks Operetta. They offer splendid niche oriented shows. See both shows this week!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast.

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