Bitter Sweet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Bitter Sweet 

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In 1929, already celebrated for his satirical revues and smart plays, Noel Coward offered his first operetta to London audiences. It was a resounding hit. Neither cynical nor particularly witty, Bitter Sweet harks back to the gentler, more decorous days of Strauss's Vienna, to the irony-ridden, sophisticated milieu of Die Fledermaus. Its story line is uncharacteristically conventional and sentimental for the author of Design for Living: a proper upper-crust English maiden (circa 1875) escapes an arranged marriage by running off with her music teacher to Vienna, then loses him in a duel with a wicked colonel. Yet Coward cleverly cast the old-fashioned tale in flashbacks, reminiscences by the Marchioness of Shayne to her niece, who's facing a similar predicament. The framing device is echoed in the music too, with a jazz-dance scene signifying the present and waltz music accompanying scenes from the past. In fact, the show's bewitching and varied melodies are the best reason to revive it: no connoisseurs of British musical theater have ever disputed the charms of ditties like "The Call of Life" "I'll See You Again" "If Love Were All," or "Zigeuner." This rare Chicago-area revival by Light Opera Works under the supervision of veteran director Philip Kraus promises to accentuate the archaic classic's Cowardian tunefulness and sardonic observation. The able cast includes Susan Lane Stokes and Norman Engstrom. Timothy Shaindlin conducts. At Northwestern University, June 28 through 30 (Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston, 708-869-6300). Friday and Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 2 PM. $14-$33.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.

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