Chicago Theater Review: HIGH FIDELITY: AN OPERETTA FARCE (ColorBox Theatre at Royal George)

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by Lawrence Bommer on August 19, 2017

in Theater-Chicago


Love may be blind but it can certainly sing up a storm. Not to be confused with the John Cusack film about a Chicago vinyl record shop, High Fidelity: An Operatic Farce is a silly but very melodious two-act confection now in a high-pitched Chicago premiere. The 140-minute trifle blithely interweaves Anton Chekhov’s short story The Boor with George Bernard Shaw’s How He Lied to Her Husband, with a salute to Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, yet another reflection on the flexibility of female passion. Except that here the male lovers are just as clueless about their hopes or hearts.

Performed at perfect (and fever) pitch by three-year-old ColorBox Theatre in the intimate Gallery space of the Royal George Theatre, this sweetly stupid work is the creation of composer Dr. Philip Seward, with a libretto by Steward and Chicago theater icon Joan Mazzonelli. Merrily depicting the shifting liaisons of four very malleable lovers, it presents the battle between the sexes as disconcertingly literal.

Set in 1910 in Lake County (north of Chicago), then the Windy City itself and its Grant Park, High Fidelity begins as grieving widow Aurora Wentworth (Ashley Rose Larkin), comforted by her visiting cousin Georgina Livingston (Antoinette Konow), receives an unwanted visit from Theodore Bumpass (Joseph Canuto Leon), who wants to collect a debt owed by Aurora’s late husband Nicholas. Completing the quartet is Theodore’s unfledged 25-year-old ward Henry Apjohn (Dennis Kallup). Ted’s furniture-smashing, bill-collecting persistence triggers an irate argument with stubborn Aurora. The friction builds into a first act pistol duel between the two (gender opposite and in 1910?).

In the second act the spat has dubiously morphed into a marriage between the acrimonious twosome, now a power couple merged in banking. Complications ensue as Henry, who had instantly fallen for Aurora, scribbles songs for her that Georgina, pining for Henry, wishes were in fact inspired by her. Of course, Theodore discovers this musical betrayal and, incredibly, another duel ensues, this time with all four parties armed and aiming.

Happily but improbably, in yet another whiplash change of affection, our fickle, unformed Henry discovers that his true love is not Aurora. Fortunately, the name Georgina has the same number of syllables so the songs won’t require alteration.

Well sung by large voices in a small hall, the unlisted songs—too many for a story this slight—as often slow down the action as advance it. (Not every plot twist merits a melody; this could all be shorter.) Seward’s lilting tunes, mostly waltzes, subtly suggest their pre-war era and savor mightily of Charles Ives’ playful predilections. The lyrics by him and Mazzonelli lift this silliness from its distracting if not desperate contrivances and its strangely forensic resolutions.

Well coached by musical director Michelle Konow, accompanied by Jennifer McBade, and competently staged by Kurt Konow, this rightly named “operatic farce” is often flamboyantly funny, once you credit the characters’ utter lack of self-awareness or emotional acuity. But, the title notwithstanding, everything we see here is basically low fidelity, just the kind that opera buffa often handles rather well.

photos by Kurt Konow

High Fidelity – An Operetta Farce
ColorBox Theatre
Royal George Theater, 1641 N Halsted St
ends on September 3, 2017
for tickets, call 312.988.9000
or visit Ticketmaster

for more shows, visit Theater in Chicago

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