WOOSTER, Ohio — Ohio Light Opera, America’s premier lyric theater company, returns to The College of Wooster this summer for its 38th annual festival season, featuring seven exciting shows, including four that have not been staged previously in Freedlander Theatre.
The curtain rises for the first time on Saturday, June 18, when the company presents Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, a Broadway smash from 1948. Five days later, another wildly popular show from the same decade takes the stage when Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun opens on June 23.
Also featured this summer at Ohio Light Opera will be Jerome Kern’s Have a Heart, Jacques Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne, Ivor Novello’s The Dancing Years, Emmerich Kálmán’s The Little Dutch Girl, and Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.
Kiss Me Kate turned out to be the crowning achievement in Cole Porter’s illustrious career. By the time it was released in 1948, many critics believed that Porter was “washed up,” but ‘Kate’ delivered a resounding blow to the skeptics by introducing a bevy of hit songs, including “So in Love,” “Why Can’t You Behave,” “Always True to You in My Fashion,” “I Hate Men,” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” along with several others. This production by Ohio Light Opera will serve as a tribute of sorts to Porter on the 125th anniversary of his birth this year.
Annie Get Your Gun, which was released two years prior to Kiss Me Kate, turned out to be a smash Broadway hit for Irving Berlin. This humorous, homespun tale spotlights American Folk Hero Annie Oakley, a whiz with a rifle who tries to win a job with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Among the many hit songs in the show are “Doin’ What Comes Natur’illy,” and “The Girl that I Marry,” along with iconic “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” “Anything You Can Do,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
Have a Heart is another groundbreaking musical by Jerome Kern, whose music has been showcased by Ohio Light Opera in recent years. Released in 1917, the show is set in Rhode Island and features book and lyrics by the inimitable Guy Bolton and famed British humorist P.G. Wodehouse. Among the more recognizable songs in the production are “You Said Something,” “Napoleon,” and “And I Am All Alone.”
La Vie Parisienne is one of Jacques Offenbach’s French operetta classics. Released in 1866, the same year The College of Wooster was founded and eight years after his groundbreaking Orpheus in the Underworld, La Vie Parisienne is one of six Offenbach productions considered among the greatest among all French operettas. This was the first attempt by Offenbach to produce a full-length domestic operetta comedy and includes a score that teems with waltzes, patter songs, ensembles, and a classic can-can.
The Dancing Years will be staged for the first time in America in almost 70 years. Welsh-born Ivor Novello had an impressive list of credits as a songwriter (“Keep the Home Fires Burning”), scriptwriter (credited with the line, “Me Tarzan, You Jane”), and composer/playwright, who brought romantic musicals back to Britain in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. A classic tearjerker, this production showcases such musical gems as “I Can Give You the Starlight,” “My Dearest Dear,” “Primrose,” and “Waltz of My Heart.”
The Little Dutch Girl is another work by Viennese composer Emmerich Kálmán, whose previous productions have been staged regularly by Ohio Light Opera and well received by its audiences. Released in 1920, this show scales back the modern dance genre and expands the role of the chorus modeled after grand classical operettas. Kálmán’s score in this production is described as “masterful,” highlighted by a “fiery Hungarian quartet and frenzied dance sequence.”
The Mikado is this year’s Gilbert and Sullivan entry for the company that stages at least one G&S production each year. Released in 1885, The Mikado has graced the Ohio Light Opera stage 13 times previously, and has long since crossed into the mainstream with such iconic characters as Ko-Ko, Yum-Yum, Nanki-Poo, and the Lord High Executioner, and familiar tunes like “I’ve Got a Little List,” “Tit-Willow,” “Three Little Maids from School,” and “A Wand’ring Minstrel I.”
The Ohio Light Opera box office is located in Westminster Church House (353 E. Pine St.) during the off-season. Orders can also be placed by phone (330-263-2345) or online. Subscription packages are available as well.
In addition to its remarkably ambitious production schedule, the company will present its annual Fourth of July Pops Concert on the square in Downtown Wooster, and host the third annual Festival Symposium on the Lyric Theater Tradition, Aug. 2-5.