The frothy fantasy Flower of Hawaii blooms again | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

The frothy fantasy Flower of Hawaii blooms again 

Folks Operetta revives a lost hit from pre-World War II Berlin.

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courtesy Folks Operetta

This operetta by composer Paul Abrahám and librettists Alfred Grünwald, Fritz Löhner-Beda, and Emmerich Földes (translated here by Gerald Frantzen) was a big hit in 1931 Berlin. The far-fetched story, set in Hawaii, then a U.S. territory, concerns a romantic triangle tinged with political tension. A plan to restore Hawaiian sovereignty revolves around the imminent arrival of Princess Laya, heir to the Hawaiian throne, who has been living in exile in Paris. Laya (Marisa Buchheit) shows up disguised as a French cabaret star, accompanied by American jazz singer Jimmy Fox (Trent Oldham). Laya has been betrothed since childhood to the Hawaiian prince Lilo-Taro (Rodell Rosel), and Hawaiian nationalists hope their marriage will inspire resistance to American imperialism. But Laya has fallen in love with Captain Reginald Stone (Nick Pulikowski), commander of the American military vessel that brought her back to her homeland; if she marries Lilo-Taro, it will be Stone's duty to arrest her.

Folks Operetta, a company dedicated to reviving long-neglected works by Jewish writers whose careers—and sometimes lives—were cut short by the rise of Nazism, delivers an elaborate and ambitious production of this frothy fantasy, written just two years before Hitler's rise to power forced the Hungarian Jewish composer Abrahám to flee Germany. The show's main draw is its tuneful, catchy score, packed with sentimental waltzes, jaunty fox trots, rousing marches, and syncopated jazz. The excellent 19-piece orchestra led by conductor Anthony Barrese features the evocative sounds of Hawaiian guitar and ragtime piano. There's plenty of energetic dancing and lots of lovely singing, despite some occasional problems with the acoustic balance between the vocalists and the onstage orchestra.   v


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