Modern fables are met with dynamic performances from some of AU’s finest singers in the double bill opera this coming March.
The easy-going operas will entertain theatergoers in a unique way. “The Unicorn in the Garden” is a short, contemporary folk tale that holds comedic surprises, and “Meanwhile, Back at Cinderella’s” wields a wild interpretation of the classic fairy tale. The two one-act operas compliment each other in their length, the first running around 15 minutes and the second spanning just over an hour.
Based on James Thurber’s tale, the 1955 treatment of “The Unicorn in the Garden” by Russell Smith tells the comedic tale of a domestic American couple whose mundane lives are suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a unicorn in a surprising sequence of events.
In a twist on the familiar Cinderella fairytale, “Meanwhile Back at Cinderella’s,” composer Dennis Arlan and writer James Billings challenge people’s preconceptions about Cinderella.
Published in 1982, the opera examines how the story could’ve gone had the step-sisters been the elegant and attractive ones, had Cinderella been awkward and had the prince been not quite as charming. Furthermore, what would happen if those two social misfits met?
The brevity and limited cast of the first production is contrasted with the unusually large cast of the second. The length and number of students on stage does not hinder the narrative, but provides a deep and delightful piece of opera.
Creators Arlan and Billings of “Meanwhile Back at Cinderella’s” characterized the show as a “baby grand opera,” a tongue-in-cheek witticism about the nature of the show. It contains many elements of major operas, such as the size of the cast and vocal performance, only with a smaller scope in that it has four scenes as opposed to four acts.
The double bill operas mark the first time director Dr. Briana Sousenheimer has worked with the School of Music, Theatre and Dance at AU. Sousenheimer describes the two shows as “magical” and “wonderful.”
“I was really excited to be asked to direct them,” she says.
The two works have remained largely under the radar from the majority of the opera-going public, which provides for spirited performances from AU’s students during production.
“It’s really refreshing to get to work on something that not many people know about,” Sousenheimer says. “There’s not a historical way that you’re ‘supposed to’ perform it.”
Sam Lynch is a sophomore music theater major who has starred in several stage productions with the Boze Lyric Theatre, including a part in last year’s opera, “Down in the Valley.” He also starred as Snoopy in last semester’s “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” This year, returning in “Meanwhile Back at Cinderella’s” as Prince Dimmly, he says things are different and the material refreshing.
“Our wonderful director has allowed us to explore the characters in our own way,” says Lynch. “While she would give us stuff to work on, for the most part she left it up to us to create our characters.
“That’s what I like about it,” says Lynch. “It’s been free and engaging, and we just have fun the whole way through.”
The small cast of “The Unicorn in the Garden” includes sophomores Isaac Derkach and Clare Lillig leading as “Husband” and “Wife,” and sophomore Wayne Collins and junior Kailey Pujdak starring as “Policeman” and “Psychiatrist,” respectively.
“Meanwhile Back at Cinderella’s,” however, will be narrated by sophomore Sarah Arnold and will feature sophomores Boris Sitnikoff, Lauren Schaffter, Clare Lillig and junior Kathryn Hochstetler as the family of Cinderella Nabgratz, played by sophomore Melissa Denney.
Also starring in the opera will be senior Benjamin Burney as Harold the Herald, sophomore Conner Thompson as the Fairy Godfather and aforementioned Sam Lynch as Prince Dimmly. The opera also features an ensemble.
“They’re not the fairy tales you’ve heard before,” Sousenheimer says. “I’m ready for people to come and laugh and see the collaboration of dance and music and acting and to just have a wonderful time at the opera.”
For Lynch, the operas present an unparalleled luxury for the AU community. “They’re kind of like that little diamond in the rough that you find,” he says. “It just sparkles so brilliantly that you can’t help but just to take it and set it into a ring as it is. And that’s the beauty of it, audiences are going to love it.”
“The Unicorn in the Garden” and “Meanwhile Back at Cinderella’s” premiere Friday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m in Byrum Hall. Additional showtimes include an evening performance on Saturday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m. and a matinee on Sunday, March 4 at 2:30 p.m.
AU Students, faculty and staff are provided two free tickets. Tickets for adults can be purchased for $12, and seniors and members of the military have a discount for $10. Children and students from other schools are offered tickets priced at $5.
For further information about Boze Lyric Theatre performances and bookings, the Byrum Hall box office can be contacted at (765) 641-4140.