Beautiful Helen of Troy | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Beautiful Helen of Troy 

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BEAUTIFUL HELEN OF TROY

Light Opera Works' playful English-language version of Jacques Offenbach's 1864 operetta La belle Helene might be subtitled "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Iliad." Director-choreographer Peter Amster's near burlesque production amusingly updates the saucy spoof, in which the fabled Greek beauty Helen's romance with the Trojan prince Paris prompts an epidemic of sexual permissiveness in Spartan society. Solid singing and smooth orchestral playing under Roger L. Bingaman's baton ably support the joke-jammed text (adapted by Quade Winter from the French original by Carmen librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy); groaner puns about "Venus envy" and "motherhood, the flag, and apple baklava" are bolstered by anachronistic sight gags (the Greeks frolic on the beach in chitons and Bermuda shorts, while a billboard points the way to "Plato's Retreat") and some occasionally risque dancing. Mezzo-soprano Buffy Baggott and tenor P. Magnus Hilbo (despite some pinching on his top notes) are fine as Helen and Paris, but the zestiest performances come from tenor Lawrence Bencomo as Menelaus, Helen's bespectacled schlemiel of a husband; bass Alex Honzen as his blustery brother Agamemnon, who longs for a return to "guilt and shame and narrow-mindedness--the qualities that made our country great"; baritones Henry Michael Odum as an overwrought oracle and Lee Worthy as Achilles, a muscle-bound oaf who limps on his weak heel; and mezzo A.J. Wester in the trouser role of Orestes, leader of the libertine legions and spokesman for the operetta's ever timely attack on moralists "who spread your baleful creed like some disease." Friday and Saturday, 8 PM, and Sunday, 2 PM, Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University, 600 Emerson, Evanston; 847-869-6300. Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rich Foreman.

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