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The Merry Widow review: Singers almost rescue boilerplate rom-com

Leslie Ann Bradley and Adam Luther in Th

GARY BEECHEY PHOTO Soprano Leslie Ann Bradley and tenor Adam Luther put in good performances in Toronto Operetta Theatre’s The Merry Widow, but can’t quite save it from odd references to Toronto and the sin of running on too long.

The Merry Widow

(out of 4)

By Franz Lehár. Directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin. Derek Bate, conductor. Toronto Operetta Theatre. To Jan. 6. 416-366-7723

Toronto Operetta Theatre’s annual Christmastime production is a noble effort that only just barely evokes the carefree glitter of a long-lost world of idle aristocrats.

The show that opened at the Jane Mallett Theatre on Friday night is Franz Lehár’s 1905 smash-hit operetta, The Merry Widow. It is classic Austro-Hungarian comic fare that pokes fun at mercenary toffs and the conventions of a rigid class system.

The boilerplate romantic-comedy of how commitment-phobic Count Danilo finally connects with farm girl Anna Glawari (whose late first husband has left her rich and eminently eligible) left its first Viennese audience clamouring for more in 1905.

Toronto Operetta Theatre’s coup is in casting two excellent singing actors in those two principal roles.

Soprano Leslie Ann Bradley brings the stage to life whenever she sets foot into the spotlight, and sings her catchy melodies with total conviction and verve.

Tenor Adam Luther, often seen working for the Canadian Opera Company these days, brings a big, warm voice as well as an affable, human presence to the bounder’s role.

Between their fine acting, singing and strong chemistry, Luther and Bradley carry a production that is otherwise more silverplate than solid gold.

There many fine supporting voices, and conductor Derek Bate does a decent job with the 13-piece orchestra arranged around the front edge of the stage.

Director Guillermo Silva-Marin, who is also responsible for the show’s design, has made a fine selection of period costumes, but the small, sparsely dressed stage turns claustrophobic with as many as 17 people milling or dancing around.

There is a lot of running to-and-fro that is probably meant to give the show a feeing of energy and movement. But the result is more frenetic than coherent.

Silva-Marin’s updates to the libretto, fully translated into English, are also problematic.

The main characters in the story are from the fictional central European principality of Pontevedro, transplanted into the gilded Paris of the turn of the 20th century. There is constant talk of counts and princes, but Silva-Marin has peppered the dialogue with comic references to 21st century subjects such as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, the crumbling Gardiner Expressway and Viagra.

Rather than being funny, these references become rocks thrown through the fragile plate glass of make-believe that we so desperately need in order to enjoy the story.

The nearly 2 1/2 hours needed to get through three acts feel much longer, never a good thing in a comedy.

thestar.com – Entertainment

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