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Review: 'Street Scene' slow to offer focused plot

By John Horan Jr. -- jhoran@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- There's opera. There are Broadway musicals. And then there's "Street Scene."

Shenandoah Conservatory tackles Kurt Weill's ambitious blend of the two and acquits itself well. The handsome production, directed by Jonathan Flom, boasts expert musicianship, vivid characterizations, a large polished cast and even a perky pooch.

A path-breaking European composer, Weill incorporated popular music into his works and, after coming to the United States, espoused what he called "American opera" or "Broadway opera," a synthesis of traditional European opera and American musical theater.

"Street Scene" has soaring melodies reminiscent of Puccini and lush operatic harmonies interspersed with blues, jazz riffs and some songs that are blatantly Broadway.

Weill's music is daunting -- odd intervals and chords that don't quite resolve -- but the Shenandoah singers handle them expertly.

For all its charms -- the clever lyrics are by the eminent black poet Langston Hughes -- "Street Scene" is self-indulgent and messy. It lacks the drive of the better works of Gian Carlo Menotti, who also melded the operatic and musical genres.

Not much happens in the long first act. Hewing to the structure of Elmer Rice's Pulitzer Prize-winning play -- he also wrote the musical's book -- the act focuses on the interactions of the residents of a New York City apartment house, a microcosm of the ethnic melting pot.

People gossip and come and go -- and sing gloriously -- but the story is secondary. Only after intermission does the show gain urgency and focus, a shift embodied by more impassioned, operatic music.

The plot narrows to a love triangle, which ends badly and also squelches a nascent romance. The residents go back to their gossip. Love loses. Realism triumphs. Only the dog is happy.

The featured singers are in fine fettle. Melissa Chavez uses her rich soprano to convey the angst of a caring woman trapped in an unhappy marriage. As her sensible daughter, Kristen Salpini is equally winning.

David Merrill achingly conveys his lovesick torment in several soaring tenor arias. Mark Alpert, the brutish husband, displays a solid baritone.

Steven Murray leads a sextet's paean to ice cream. Christie Farrell and Nate Golden are a delight as rambunctious lovers. Ron DeJager is the lecherous boss.

The ensemble convey distinctive personas and blend their voices in Weill's plush harmonies.

Conductor Robert Tweten elicits lively playing from the orchestra.

William Pierson supplies the sturdy apartment house that dominates the stage. Wm. McConnell Bozman's lighting is effective, and Jennifer Flitton Adams provides the plethora of period costumes.

"Street Scene" continues at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre today at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available at 665-4569 or www.su.edu/conservatory.


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