In review: Cousin from Nowhere
I went to Toronto Operetta Theatre's Cousin From Nowhere, an English translation of Eduard Künneke's Das Vetter aus Dingsda. Whenever I go and hear TOT shows, I always end up hearing some new music that gets stuck in my head, sung by lovely Canadian talent. And Cousin From Nowhere, directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin did exactly that. The can't-help-but-smile tunes got to me right away (conducted by Jurgen Petrenko), and the set made me think of old musicals like My Fair Lady and Carousel. Kitschy, perhaps; but definitely charmant.
The story is one of lost childhood sweethearts, mistaken identities, and parental control, all that stuff that makes up a sweet story: Julia loves Roderich, staying true to him even though he's been away for seven years, and she's sure he's staying true to her too. When a stranger shows up needing a place to stay, he hears about her long-lost love, and bluffs his way into Julia's arms. Hilarity ensues, until the read Roderich finally does return. I'd be interested in reading the libretto in its original German, since I couldn't shake the feeling that I was listening to a pretty hokey translation of the text. Now, I'll grant a silly plot, but it's a shame when the anachronistic dialogue keeps the singers from creating characters that are relatable.
The singing was my favourite part of this show. Soprano Lucia Cesaroni was a total pro in the role of Julia, the lady waiting for her long-lost love, Roderich. Lucia sang with an utterly gorgeous, womanly sound, completely clear and simple. She reminded me of Shirley Jones in The Music Man. Her sound was rich and balanced, and she really stood out onstage. Soprano Charlotte Knight played Hanna, Julia's best friend, and she was a perfect fit for this kind of show. She looked like she'd been plucked right out of the 19-aughts, and she had a bell-like voice to go with the pretty picture. Her singing was polished throughout the show, cutting impressively in the ensemble numbers. Together, Charlotte and Lucia were two likeable friends, and the audience was on their side immediately.
Tenor Christopher Mayell shone as August, the wanderer/charlatan who pretends to be Julia's long-lost love. Chris has something endearing about him when he's onstage, even when his character is basically a con-man. He sang beautifully, with more ease and depth than I've heard before, and it was wonderful to hear him in a lead role with dramatic ups and downs. His character had plenty of the show's hit tunes to sing, and I thought they suited his sweet, vulnerable voice. Chris also had some of my favourite quotable quotes from the English translation, including, "You little vixen!" Bravo, friend.
In what was the most anticipated entrance of the evening, baritone Gregory Finney played Julia's the actual long-lost love, Roderich. His was the most organic, mature acting of the night; he did a fantastic job of unpacking a complex character for us in a relatively short amount of time onstage. He sang with a warm, friendly voice that had surprising power. He showed off some slick dancing, too, in an adorable duet with Charlotte. Greg is a thoughtful artist, and we've waxed poetic about drama theory together before (he even wrote about it); it was a thrill for me to watch him put it all into practice onstage.
As Egon, the poor guy who (unrequitedly) loves Julia, tenor Stefan Fehr was great. The role didn't give him much to sing, either because it was a patter-type number or it was a bit low. But he was vocally solid and hilariously tragic as the "what about me??" guy after everyone else's happy end. Baritone Michael Nyby gave a spectacular performance as Julia's uncle, Josef. I thought his was some of the best singing of the night. Michael had enormous power that overflowed from the stage, making me think of Verdi baritones, and making me itch to hear him more in Toronto. As Julia's aunt, Elizabeth Beeler was a shrill, clucking, fainting caricature of a turn-of-last-century, well-do-to lady. I thought she was great for this character, but she didn't seem to fit the vocal aesthetic of everyone else in the cast. She had a pretty darn impressive chest-head voice mix, which gave her lots of volume and room to act. Beeler was the only singer to really use this kind of singing, and while I didn't mind it in principle, she stood out in a way that I don't think was intended.
TOT's Cousin from Nowhere left me with pretty tunes in my head, and I got the chance to see some of my fellow Canadian colleagues show off their real skill. The show plays at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, tonight at 8pm, and closes tomorrow at 2pm. For details and tickets, click here.