Insights sometimes sneak up on you. I was blind-sided by one today watching the Toronto Operetta Theatre Canadian premiere production of Oscar Straus’ A Waltz Dream at St Lawrence Centre. TOT play an important role offering local artists a place to hone their craft, giving work to singers & musicians especially now after the horrors of the last two years, aka the pandemic.
Yet they’re also giving us opportunities to sample rarities we might never hear otherwise.
I didn’t expect to connect to this obscure work from a composer who is almost completely unknown, but I had déjà vu, listening to the way some of the characters talk down to one another: a big part of films such as The Shop Around the Corner, where much of the humour and the tensions of the plot, derive from the awareness of class.
One of the perpetual questions with TOT casts is to observe the balance between their skill-sets. Some sing but aren’t fabulous actors, some act but don’t sing so well, and some can do both. I wonder sometimes how Director Guillermo Silva-Marin sleeps at night, given the responsibilities he shoulders juggling three different artistic endeavors. Opera in Concert is over for the year, and with today’s show, so too with TOT, while the workshops of students at Summer Opera Lyric Theatre are just beginning to exhaust Guillermo.
Shows such as today’s display an assortment between younger talents emerging at the beginning of their career, alongside more seasoned performers.
The biggest laughs as well as some of the best singing was created by Gregory Finney as Count Lothar, reminding us of the adage “there are no small parts, only small actors.”
Greg makes everyone better, funnier, giving us the additional pleasure of watching his chemistry with the cast. Alexandra Weintraub as Fifi probably had the most opportunities to share the limelight & laughter, while Brittany Stewart as Isobel also had a few hilarious moments with Greg.
Like Greg, Elizabeth Beeler as Theodora gave us professional delivery of her comedy and terrific singing, even if her role requires her to be more of a set-up for others to get the laugh, somewhat like a comic straight-man.
As so often happens with TOT, Derek Bate had me wondering how he gets so much musical value out of such a small ensemble, playing idiomatically, sensitively and supportively. Straus was well-served by singers, chorus and this tiny but energetic orchestra.
Guillermo and Derek must balance the dramatic and the musical, as not everyone has the multiple talents of Greg or Elizabeth. Andrea Nunez as the Princess Helene and Scott Rumble as Niki, gave us a convincing romance with lots of lovely singing. In this rather big cast I found the women more convincing in reconciling the music and the comedy. Amy Moodie as Franki was central to the romantic plot, while Karina Bray as Princess Adelaide was often right in the middle as the funniest moments of the comedy unfolded.