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The Merry Widow (tour – Dunstable, Grove Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Forget about lavish hats, an array of settings – or indeed a full chorus and orchestra. This is Lehár’s The Merry Widow in Opera della Luna mode, which means that director Jeff Clarke has opted for a seven-piece on-stage band (himself included) and a total of eight singers – two women, four men. This reduction of the score keeps the languor of the succession of waltz-time numbers in good contrast to its more comical elements. The translation used is the snappy one byJeremy Sams.

Not that the stage is left bare. It’s not. Designer Gabriella Csanyi-Wills and choreographer Jenny Arnold give us a chandelier straight out of The Phantom of the Opera, gilt urns which wouldn’t disgrace Versailles, very attractive mid-20th century dresses for Abigail Iveson as Valencienne and Rhona McKail in the title role, a clever use of rather unusual puppets (especially for the cabaret at Maxim’s) and a whole range of dances sometimes just barely – but most effectively – sketched-in.

McKail’s Hanna Glawari is an engaging creature, determined not to play down her less than glittering origins while well aware of her current added-value assets. She sings very well, though I would have liked more of the words of her second-act ballad to have been clearer. Iveson also has a good singing voice, but in dialogue Valencienne’s Parisian accent left my straining to hear her. Ian Belsey’s St Brioche and Dickon Gough’s Cascada – the tall and the short sides of fortune-hunting – provide an object lesson in this respect.

It’s a production in which the men may not have all the best tunes, but do have the better acting roles. Graham Hoadley’s Baron Zeta is every inch the pompous jobsworth of an ambassador and I couldn’t help feeling that there were elements of a certain Downing Street spin-doctor in Adam Price’s Njegus. Trevor Jary looks right as Danilo, the most laid-back of playboys but seemed unable to make up his mind between singing full out and a species of parlando; the latter mode has, of course, a very good UK pedigree.


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