Light Opera Works | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Light Opera Works 

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Just about every season the Evanston-based Light Opera Works comes up with a half-forgotten gem of musical theater for repolishing. This time around the honor goes to Knickerbocker Holiday, one of Kurt Weill's notable Broadway shows. Composed shortly after Weill (and his wife, Lotte Lenya) fled Nazi Germany and settled down in New York, this 1938 satire reveals an artist with a remarkable grasp of the history and politics of his adopted country, not to mention its homegrown musical idioms. The setting is the colonial America of 17th-century New Amsterdam (now Manhattan); the story, loosely based on Washington Irving's A History of New York, goes beyond the conventional romance between star-crossed young lovers to comment on the quintessentially American ideals of small government and participatory democracy. Playwright Maxwell Anderson, in the first of his collaborations with Weill, aimed quite a few salvos at Franklin D. Roosevelt (disguised as Peter Stuyvesant, the autocratic governor who interferes in the budding romance), the New Deal, and fascism in general. Who can fault a libretto that calls for "less discipline and more entertainment" in government? Weill's score doesn't quite have the sardonic edge and pungent flavor of his German output, but it's still distinguished by sophistication and rhythmic vigor. The poignant (and justifiably famous) "September Song," of course, has passed the test of time. This revival, believed to be the first fully staged production anywhere in two decades, is supervised by M. Seth Reines, a Roosevelt University prof. Lee Strawn, an LOW perennial, impersonates Irving, who narrates; Sandy Borglum and Christopher Garbrecht are the harassed lovers; and John Payonk plays Governor Stuyvesant. In charge of the pit orchestra is Peter Lipari, an up-and-coming conductor especially sensitive to the pace of musical comedy. Tuesday, 2 PM; Thursday through next Saturday, December 31 through January 2, 8 PM; and next Sunday, January 3, 2 PM; Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University, 600 Emerson, Evanston; 708-869-6300.

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