The Hawaii Performing Arts Festival’s cast(s) of Orpheus In The Underworld took center stage last Friday at the Palace Theater’s lobby, with Ronny Michael Greenberg and John-Micah Braswell directing and accompanying these students on piano. The show entitled Music at The Movies featured songs from operas and musicals featured in films.
The cast of 30 is diverse and represented talent from the United Kingdom and from all over the United States. They opened the show with a rousing version of “Libiamo,” the famous duet with the chorus from Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata (featured in Pretty Woman). It’s one of the best-known opera melodies and a popular performance choice for many great tenors. The song is a brindisi, a lively tune that encourages the drinking of wine or other alcoholic beverages (this teetotaler still enjoyed the festivity and the joyful mood – full cast numbers were thoughtful to sing with masks on for the safety of the patrons).
There wasn’t a lackluster moment. It was a joy to watch the young singers pour their hearts out and practice their craft.
Fun trios were presented by Big Island tenor Benito Mercia and baritones Kobe Burton and Samuel Flores, who sang “Fugue for Tinhorns” from Guys and Dolls at the top of the second half, and “Poor Wandering One” from Pirates of Penzance with sopranos Savanna Butcher, Julia Sapeta and Anneke Van Slyke.
Michelle “Shan-Shan” Ding was an HPAF student a decade ago – now married with a cute daughter, the soprano returns to the Festival and sang “Donde Liete Usci” from La Bohème, featured “in (her) favorite movie, Moonstruck.” Baritone David Drettwan, so confidant and compelling for a 22-year-old – one looks forward to seeing him as Jupiter in one of two performances of Orpheus as noted in last week’s “Opera On The Rocks” reviews – reprised his “Non piu andrai” from Le Nozze di Figaro and featured in Interview with the Vampire.
Solos included mezzo-soprano Zoë Sheller who sang “Non so più cosa son cosa faccio” also from Figaro and featured in The Godfather; “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi and featured in Room with a View sung by British soprano Susannah Hardwick who will play Eurydice in Orpheus; “Vissi darte” from Tosca and featured in James Bond: Quantum of Solace was gloriously sung by soprano Alexandria McNeely; and the entire cast came out to support mezzo-soprano Laura Carskadden in “Habanera” from Carmen and featured in the fun Pixar movie, Up.
Watching assistant music director and principal pianist John-Micah Braswell on the piano is a delight! One could see his passion for the music and excellent precision in sharing the accompanying with Ronny Michael Greenberg. The young, talented directors put in a lot of hard work, and they are a spectacular team – accompanying is a fine art as one would notice if there were an off-note (there wasn’t), which enhanced the entire production for the students and the patrons.
Sam Wetzel (above), a baritone from Pennsylvania, is cast as Jupiter in one of the two performances of Orpheus. When he sang Camelot’s “If Ever I Would Leave You” at the end of the first act, this reviewer was amazed as Wetzel’s voice had a resonance that brought the energy up from the floor throughout the Theatre – physically vibrating and moving the “chi” in the room! Next, soprano Katrina Cole sang “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” – the delicate notes and her acting/stage presence perfectly transformed her into the character of Joanna from Sweeney Todd.
The gentleman on my right could not stop smiling about tenor Ben Johnson who sang “On The Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady – his presentation of Freddie was so likable! But then, the gentleman was only to be wowed (again!) by counter-tenor Cole Denton who sang “Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s opera Serse. A brilliant performance by Denton, who will play Jay Styx in Orpheus.
Madelyn Deininger, mezzo-soprano (who will perform the role of Juno in Orpheus,) was stellar in the challenging “Una voce poco fa” from Il Barbiere di Siviglia featured in Citizen Kane. Each note and run were perfect in her performance. The entire cast finished with a joyful “Oklahoma” from the musical.
Introductions and descriptions of the songs were mostly given by the students themselves. They showed confidence in their coaching – acting stage presence, maturity, eye contact, thoughtfulness, diction, and a generally pleasant introduction to the singers and each song.
Notes & Links
If you were not able to attend Music at the Movies, the set list featured: “Sull’aria” from Le Nozze di Figaro (featured in The Shawshank Redemption” sung by sopranos Anneke Van Styke and Sarah Strezewski; “Barcarolle” from Les contes d’Hoffmann and featured in La vita è bella sung by sopranos Ellen Moody and Marissa Perri; “Stranger in Paradise” from Kismet sung by tenor Frank Watnik and soprano Kaitlyn Heit; “One Hand, One Heart” from West Side Story sung by tenor Dylan Godbey and soprano Emily Densmore; “Sous le dôme épais” sung by soprano, Sojung Lim and mezzo-soprano, Shuyi Li from Lakmé and featured in Laura Croft: Tomb Raider; “So in Love” from Kiss Me, Kate and featured in Delovely sung by baritone Kobe Burton and soprano, Jennifer O’Brien; “Papagena/Papageno Duet” from Die Zauberflöte and featured in Amadeus sung by soprano Jamie Lockhart and baritone Samuel Flores was lovely to see the interaction between Papageno and Papagena; and “People Will Say We’re In Love” from Oklahoma, sung by Big Island students Olivia Malouff, soprano and baritone, Solomon Schumate.
About the author: Rona Lee studied theatre arts and film at SUNY Purchase (Conservatory – College of Performing Arts) and Communications at the University of Arizona. She traveled abroad with Up With People! (1983-84) and moved to the Big Island from New York in 1990.
Photos: Steve Roby
Performance date: 08/July/2022
A full calendar of HPAF events and tickets for all events are available by visiting https://hawaiiperformingartsfestival.org/. Tickets for Kahilu Theatre events may be purchased at https://kahilutheatre.org/ or via phone at (808) 885-6868.