Ethington Theatre’s Latest Foray Into Opera Shows Depth, Reveals a Star
Review by Doug Carroll
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
If this keeps up, GCU’s College of Fine Arts and Production might make opera lovers of us all.
Sure, last year’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” was a lightweight that no one ever will mistake for “Carmen” or “La Boheme.” And the new, two-in-one Ethington Theatre Series production of “Comedy on the Bridge” and “Beauty and the Beast” also requires minimal intellectual engagement from an audience. This is opera lite, sung in English and definitely less filling.
That said, there’s much to enjoy about “Comedy” and “Beauty” and the clever direction imparted by Michael Kary, whose river of creativity runs deep.
“Comedy,” a Czech work first performed in the late 1930s, and “Beauty,” an 18th-century French fairy tale adapted ceaselessly ever since, most notably by Disney, seem like an odd pairing. But Kary has weaved them together delightfully, and Friday night’s opening performance gave yet another example of the college’s impressive depth of student talent.
Although the setting for “Comedy” is a war between two villages, it’s really about five mixed-up characters caught on a bridge at the same time, denied passage to the other side by a pair of officious sentries. The stranded include Josephine (Laura McQuaig) and her fiancé (Drew Swaine), and the Brewer (Sam Brunner) and his pregnant wife (Andrea Hall). McQuaig, a newcomer to the Ethington stage, sings Josephine convincingly, and veteran performers Swaine and Brunner show they are as versatile as it gets at GCU. These two can try on any role and make it fit.
In the tradition of romantic comedies, the foursome’s entanglements become very messy, and a passing Schoolmaster (Anthony Cotoia) only adds to the farce with his fixation on solving a riddle about a deer. Everything works out, of course, including the riddle, but the Schoolmaster leaves his storybook behind and an officer (Stephanie Kaye) picks it up and begins reading “Beauty and the Beast” as the first act ends.
The second act then tells the familiar “Beauty” love story with some of the college’s best vocal talent. Baritone John Luke Osorio sings the role of Beauty’s father, and tenor Adam Benavides sings the Beast, represented in this case by a tall, six-person puppet that elicits just the right amount of sympathy (sounds strange, I know, but it works).
Osorio and Benavides are very good, as we would expect from having heard them before, but tiny Chelsey Minkler, as Beauty, will have you talking about her beautiful voice all the way home. From the first note she sings, it’s apparent that she has a rare gift.
Minkler, who stands less than 5 feet tall, has a soaring soprano that fills the theatre in the way that Christina Cullers’ voice did in “Amahl” (as the mother) and the musical “The Boy Friend” (as the headmistress) last season. A graduate of Horizon High School and transfer student from Scottsdale Community College, where she won a scholarship from jazz musician George Benson for her talent, Minkler has two years to work with Dr. Sheila Corley, GCU’s esteemed vocal coach.
The results of that tutelage are bound to be extraordinary, so don’t miss an opportunity to hear Minkler.
“Comedy” and “Beauty” wouldn’t work as well as they do without the clean, functional stage design of Assistant Dean Bill Symington, the exquisite costuming of Nola Yergen and the accompaniment of gifted pianist Mark Ferrey, who is now a full-time instructor at the University. Like Kary, all three of them place the student cast in a position to shine and are responsible for excellence having become the norm in GCU’s theatre and music programs.
The final three performances of “Comedy on the Bridge” and “Beauty and the Beast” will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, call 639.8880 or email email@example.com. The production is suitable for all ages.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.