BGSU’s ‘Merry Widow’ a frothy confection

Count Danilo Danilovitch (left, performed by Blake Bard) is seen with Hanna Glawari, the Merry
Widow (right, performed by Liz Pearse) during a rehearsal of Franz Lehár’s ‘The Merry Widow’ at the
Donnell Theatre. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)

Given the opening of "The Merry Widow" with its satire of formal society and
focus on the financial travails of a small Central European nation, I half expected the Marx Brothers to
show up at some point. SEE MORE
That Groucho, Chico and Harpo never made it to the Donnell Theatre, though, doesn’t mean
viewers will be disappointed – the 1904 operetta on stage on campus Friday and Sunday offers plenty of
laughs, lovely vocalizing and spectacle to keep an audience entertained.Franz Lehar’s "The Merry
Widow" plays Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. with a director’s forum an hour before each show
in the Eva Marie Saint Theatre also in the Wolfe Center for the Arts.The plot is pure froth with
director Ronald Shields adding dialogue to whip up the comedy a bit more.The musical opens at the
Pontevedrian embassy in Paris were a party to celebrate the prince’s birthday is in progress.The party
hosted by the ambassador Baron Mirko Zeta (Geoff Stephenson) is both a display of jingoism, on the part
of the men, and Gaelic coquetry, on the part of the women.Relations between the sexes also plays a role
in the country’s financial crisis. Pontevedro is so small that its future hinges on the inherited
fortune of the merry widow of the title, Hanna Glawari (Liz Pearse). She married very young to a very
old, and rich, banker, who scarcely survived the nuptials. The fortune he left is now in the country’s
national bank, and if she marries someone other than a fellow Pontevedrian, officials fear she will take
the money from the country and bankrupt the state. The country, announces Stephenson, is facing "a
fiscal cliff."Given the world’s attention is riveted on the banking situation in tiny Cyprus, the
show’s slight plot seems oddly apropos.The most likely suitor to vie with a couple of suave and venal
Parisian playboys (Benjamin Laur and Rory Wallace) is Count Danilo Danilovitch (Blake Bard). As it turns
out, he was Hanna’s lover before her marriage.It hardly spoils anything to say their amorous reunion is
eventually affected after a appropriate series of comic complications.Those play out against the
flirtatious antics of the officials’ wives – LeTara Lee, Patty Kramer and Claire Chardon. They are taken
by the new Parisian manners, so unlike the conventional expectations of Pontevedro.Lee, Kramer and
Kirsten Crockett sing how hard it is "to be a girl" who must learn to sew and cook while the
boys play and later must observe protocol even if they find it dull.For their part the male characters,
including Tyler Dohar, Benjamin Goldsberry and Dean Moore II, come together to lament about "who
can tell what the hell women want," a number that concludes with a kick line.Zeta’s own wife
Valencienne (Chardon) is deeply involved with Camille (Conklin), though her husband is oblivious to her
extracurricular affects. Stephenson’s Zetas is a dithering schemer, blind to what’s happening under his
nose.Hanna is not inclined simply to be told what to do. Pearse plays her as a strong-willed and
independent, with a sharp sense of humor. Yet she is a romantic at heart, and that becomes evident when
she sings a romantic folk song opening Act II. You can see Danilo melt as he listens to her.Later she
and Danilo parry in song over his reluctance to speak the words "I love you," with the opera
concluding in his declaration that he will let the music say it for him.That’s a fitting conclusion to a
show that is driven by its richly tuneful music. The orchestra, conducted by Emily Freeman Brown, gives
a robust reading of the score. At the dress Wednesday night, the balance between singers and
instrumentalists was still a work in progress in spots, but those issues are likely to be ironed out
before showtime.For such light-weight fare, "The Merry Widow" is very filling and leaves a
tuneful afterglow.

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