UWOpera breaks the mould with drama Street Scene

Manhattan-based story showcases an array of impressive vocalists

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Leigh-Ann Allen and Michael Marino

Courtesy UWOpera

NOT YOUR AVERAGE OPERA. Leigh-Ann Allen and Michael Marino perform in UWOpera's production of Street Scene. The play employs two separate casts; Jennifer Pyra and Clarence Frazer also play lead characters.

Street Scene
Directed by: Dr. Theodore Baerg
Starring: Judith Oatway, Jennifer Pyra, Clarence Frazer, Anna Casurella, Young Yi

3 stars

UWOpera once again broke the mould of traditional opera with its latest production, Street Scene, a Broadway opera based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Elmer Rice.

Set on the doorstep of an east side Manhattan apartment, the story follows the tenants and their daily trials as they try to beat the pressing heat.

Their lives are all delicately intertwined, as the drama surrounding the Maurrant family becomes the focus of the neighbours’ gossip. Housewife Anna Maurrant’s (Oatway) presumed affair and the growing interest from male prospects for her daughter Rose (Pyra) eventually leads to the unfortunate demise of the family.

The play makes a bold statement on married life and the unfulfilled dreams and sacrifices that can follow " a heavy subject that the cast handles with professionalism and style. The performance showcases an impressive array of up-and-coming voices, which makes up for moments of weak acting.

Breaking away from conventional opera, the songs are written in English and combine Broadway-esque music with falsetto vocals. What emerges is an interesting blend that brings opera to modern day audiences in two acts.

A jaw-dropping dance number performed by Casurella, who plays the promiscuous Mae Jones, and her smooth talking date Dick McGann (Frazer) steals the show in the first act with its sizzling chemistry and heart-pounding energy.

Yi provides much-needed comic relief with his portrayal of Lippo Florentino, an Italian immigrant with a desire for American ice cream.

The central storyline is cliché by today’s standards. A disenchanted housewife escaping an abusive marriage and lovesick daughter wanting to break free of her mediocre station in life is a theme seen in many forms since the play’s original production in 1947. Though a classic tale, it turns up short.

The supporting characters breathe life into the production. The colourful collection of characters, each with their own ironic quirks and anecdotes, offers a spectrum of vocal styling, choreography and comedic timing.

With a heavy storyline that requires character depth above the acting capabilities of some of the central performers, it is refreshing that the other tenants of Street Scene were so valiantly brought to life.

Despite its shortcomings, the idea of “Broadway opera” is an excellent way to tread the waters of the opera genre. It’s an accessible musical medium that director Dr. Theodore Baerg and UWOpera will hopefully explore in greater depth in the future.

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