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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Lawrence’s ‘Street Scene’ a vivid, must-see production

Kurt Weill’s compelling opera is getting a full-blown treatment.

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – An opera that is fully mounted by a local entity is rare around these parts these days. That’s reason enough for opera-minded people to catch Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene” this weekend at Lawrence University’s Stansbury Theatre. The bonus is the production is formidable – a must-see for its steaming story, 1929 period costuming and look, sea of singers and full orchestra.

Make that “seas of singers.” Lawrence has a conservatory, and it seems that fine student singers are part of the woodwork. “Street Scene,” with 47 human roles (plus one dog), demands tons of quality singing in the first place – and Lawrence’s production has 21 significant-to-leading roles double cast!

This is HUGE undertaking. Lawrence mounted Elmer Rice’s 1929 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Street Scene” a few weeks ago. Now comes the Kurt Weill opera, for which Elmer Rice wrote the book and collaborated with literary giant Langston Hughes for the lyrics. Lawrence adds to the mix with a pre-performance lecture by visiting assistant professor of music Erica Scheinberg that supplements the experience with quality material.

Now, to the grist, the story: Elmer Rice explores the humanity in a New York tenement during the span of 24 hours. He builds a patchwork quilt, with each person a patch with a distinct personality and, generally, a struggle with something in life. Kurt Weill sews the quilt together with his far-ranging music – operatic, blues, Broadway tunesmith, ’40s jitterbug, child-song – with a multitude of stand-alone songs for individuals, complex duets/ensembles and all-out production bursts. Songs range from woe filled (“Lonely House” and “Somehow I Never Could Believe”) to angry (“Let Things Be Like They Always Was”) to joyous (“Ice Cream Sextet”). Much turns around the Maurrant family – the mother is having an affair that has tongues wagging, the brute father has a dislocated heart, the daughter tries to keep her head up with all sorts of possibilities but her course of desire is impeded by matters of faith and the son is a delinquent who the mother sees with rose-colored glasses. The tenement teems with activity, and each role adds color and texture to the captivating quilt.

While many hands are part of this project, conductor Octavio Mas-Arocas is at the wheel in front of all as he firmly directs the orchestra (giving kudos at times) and clearly cues the singers.

In the lobby, tucked around the corner to the left of the theater entrances, is a display of set and costuming elements. The display gives an idea of the detail that is part of this production.

“Street Scene” reveals the artistic depth and scope of the triumvirate of Kurt Weill, Elmer Rice and Langston Hughes – together weaving story, music/song and dance into a concentrated entity that’s both heavy and light. There’s murderous mayhem on one hand and movement mayhem on another, with the latter coming in “Moon Faced, Starry Eyed” as two lovers erupt into a wild jitterbug that the creators seem to have tossed in for the heck it for flashy action.

Lawrence earned support from the Kurt Weill Foundation for this production. Alums from the professional ranks are part of the creative team, bringing another level of expertise.

Performances (5 stars out of 5, for sheer effort) continue through Sunday, March 9.

***

Creative: Music - Kurt Weill; book, Elmer Rice, based on his play of the same name; lyrics - Langston Hughes and Elmer Rice. From the Lawrence Conservatory of Music and Department of Theatre Arts: stage direction - Timothy X. Troy; conductor - Octavio Mas-Arocas; vocal coach - Bonnie Koestner; costume design - Karin Kopischke; scenic design - Keith Pitts; lighting design - Aaron Sherkow; choreographer - Angela Frederick.

Cast: (*-Friday and Sunday performances) Abraham Kaplan - David Pecsi, Ian Koziara*; Greta Fiorentino – Anna Valcour, Maire Clement*; Carl Olsen – Andrew Breuninger, Jack Canfield*; Emma Jones – Kayla Siembieda, Cayla Morton; Olga Olsen – Elizabeth Vaughan, Emily Crowe*; Shirley Kaplan – Melina Jaharis; Henry Davis – Mitchell Kaspryzk, Phillip Jindra*; Willie Maurrant – Colin Mayo; Anna Maurrant – Natasha Foley, Gabriella Guilfoil*; Sam Kaplan – Jon Stombres, Charlie Aldrich*; Daniel Buchanan – Garrett Medlock, Michael Uselmann*; Frank Maurrant – Luke MacMillan, Eric Smedsrud*; George Jones – Joseph Andreola, Will Doreza*; Steve Sankey – Jacob Dalton; Lippo Fiorentino – Ian Koziara, David Pecsi*; Jennie Hildebrand – Elisabeth Burmeister, Lauren Koeritzer*; Mary Hildebrand, Eleanor Sieck*; Grace Davis – Jenna Lindsey; Rose Maurrant – Graycie Gardner, Elena Stabile*; Harry Easter – Alex York, Daniel Vinitsky*; Mae Jones – Kirsten O’Donnell, Madeline Bunke; Dick McGann – Josh Eidem, Paul Gutmann*; Vincent Jones – Kip Hathaway; Dr. Wilson – Jack Rosenberry; Officer Murphy – Nick Nootenboom; Fred Cullen – Erik Morrison; First Nursemaid – Stephanie Popik, Deme Hellwig*; Second Nursemaid – Carly Gaeth, Zoie Reams*; First Salvation Army Girl – Kelsy Wang, Katie Mueller*; Second Salvation Army Girl – Rachel Weiss, Sarah Coffman*; Graduation Girl No. 1 – Annie Penner; Graduation Girl No. 2 – Clara Imon Pedtke; Mrs. Hildebrand – Samantha Feinberg; A Woman – Zoie Reams; Joan – Ilana Goldman; Mertyl – Lauren Vanderlinden; Violin Student – Alexa Blumenstock; Offstage Violin – Annie Penner; Strawberry Seller – Willson Oppedahl; First Policeman – P.J. Uhazie; Second Policeman – Andrew Green; Charlie Hildebrand – Peter Sieck; Milkman – Michael Russell; Old Clothes Seller – Ian Grimshaw; Joe – Brian Tapia Reed; Marvin – Aidan Boleyn-Fitzgerald; Marshal – Abedin Rafique; Queenie – Lola (a Cairn Terrier).

Songs (running time: 2¾ hours)

Act I

“Ain’t It Awful, The Heat?” - Greta Fiorentino, Emma Jones, Olga and Carl Olsen, Abraham Kaplan

“I Got a Marble and a Star” - Henry Davis

“Get a Load of That” - Emma Jones, Greta Fiorentino, Olga Olsen

“When a Woman Has a Baby” - Daniel Buchanan, Greta Fiorentino, Emma Jones, Anna Maurrant

“She Shouldn't Be Staying Out Nights” - Frank and Anna Maurrant, Greta Fiorentino

“Somehow I Never Could Believe” - Anna Maurrant

“Whatcha Think of That?” - Emma and George Jones, Carl Olsen, Greta Fiorentino

“Ice Cream Sextet” - Lippo and Greta Fiorentino, Carl and Olga Olsen, George Jones, Henry Davis

“Let Things Be Like They Always Was” - Frank Maurrant

“Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied in a Bow” - Jennie Hildebrand, Ensemble

“Lonely House” - Sam Kaplan

“Wouldn't You Like To Be on Broadway?” - Harry Easter

“What Good Would the Moon Be?” - Rose Maurrant

“Moon Faced, Starry Eyed” - Dick McGann, Mae Jones

“Remember That I Care” - Sam Kaplan, Rose Maurrant

“I Got a Marble and a Star (Reprise)” - Henry Davis

Act II

“Catch Me If You Can” - Charlie and Mary Hildebrand, Willie Maurrant, Grace Davis, Children

“There’ll Be Trouble” - Frank, Rose and Anna Maurrant

“A Boy Like You” - Anna Maurrant

“We’ll Go Away Together” - Rose Maurrant, Sam Kaplan

“The Woman Who Lived Up There” - Ensemble

“Lullaby” - Nursemaid #1, Nursemaid #2

“I Loved Her, Too” - Frank and Rose Maurrant, Ensemble

“Don't Forget the Lilac Bush” - Sam Kaplan, Rose Maurrant

“Ain’t It Awful, The Heat? (Reprise)” - Greta Fiorentino, Emma Jones, Olga Olsen, Abraham Kaplan

***

VENUE: The 445-seat Stansbury Theatre is located in the Lawrence University Music-Drama Center at 420 E. College Ave. The center was dedicated June 5, 1959. Frank C. Shattuck Associates of Neenah designed the $1.4 million building, and construction was by the Oscar Boldt Construction Company. Spare of adornment, the theater is a functional rectangle with a proscenium stage, plain walls, acoustical clouds on the high ceiling and, below the stage in front, an orchestra pit (that spills into the seating to accommodate percussion players for “Street Scene”).

PERSON: Mary Stansbury was an 1859 Lawrence graduate and one of Lawrence’s first female trustees. Mary A. Phinney Stansbury, born in Vernon Centre, New York, came to Appleton in 1853 and entered the preparatory department of Lawrence Institute. During her lifetime, she taught at Lawrence for short periods. “The Path of Years” is a published volume of her poetry from 1907. Search the Internet, and you can find her poem, “How He Saved St. Michael’s,” in collected poem publications and a manual on elocution. An endowment by Mary Stansbury is credited with helping build the theater.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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