WOOSTER, Ohio – The Ohio Light Opera, a resident professional company of The College of Wooster, will do what it does best during the summer of 2018 – offer a wide range of shows from early Broadway with familiar swing music to traditional operettas and even pay tribute to an American classical music legend – while celebrating its 40th season.
The season opens with “Pajama Game” on Saturday night, June 16, followed by “Babes in Arms” and “Fifty Million Frenchmen” the next two weeks. The trio of shows are likely familiar to most theatre goers, though, they may not recall the storylines.
“We’re doing shows now, where people don’t know how they know them, but they recognize the music,” said Laura Neill, executive director of OLO. “We’ve broadened our repertoire to include early Broadway shows, and those three are the next step in the genre. Last year, ‘Anything Goes’ was a huge hit. We’ve kind of found a new niche because people aren’t doing these shows … so we’re attracting people from New York, the west coast, and even international.”
“Pajama Game,” which opened on Broadway in 1954 and ran for more than 1,000 performances, is based on the novel “7½ Cents.” Winner of the 1955 Tony Award for best musical, the endearing story centers around a romance between Sid, a pajama factory foreman, and Babe, a union boss, however their relationship proves challenging when on opposite sides of labor relations.
Making its OLO debut Thursday, June 21, is “Babes in Arms,” which features the hit songs “My Funny Valentine” and “The Lady is a Tramp.” A 1937 comedy that has remarkably never been revived on Broadway, despite the popular movie that starred Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, “Babes in Arms” depicts a pair of teenagers who produce musical follies to avoid being sent off to work on a farm during the summer while their vaudevillian parents tour.
“Fifty Million Frenchmen” will continue the unofficial OLO tradition of staging Cole Porter musicals, with its opening on Thursday, June 28. Considered the first hit of the famed composer and lyricist, it tells the tale of Peter Forbes, a wealthy American who travels to Paris and bets a friend that, within a month, he can become engaged to Looloo, a young woman he adores, while passing himself off as poor.
To commemorate the 100th birthday in 2018 of the iconic Leonard Bernstein, the OLO will depart from its typical offerings, according to Neill, when it debuts “Candide,” which includes complex ideologies, Thursday, July 5. The 1956 comic operetta is based on the classic 1759 satire by the famous philosopher Voltaire, as the title character, his bride, and her brother are told by a respected professor that they live in the “best of all possible worlds.” Shortly after, Candide is informed that his new wife died at the hands of enemy troops, then endures many more harrowing experiences, leading him to question the doctor’s tenet.
The OLO will also offer three more light-hearted, traditional operettas in “Iolanthe,” “La Périchole,” and “Cloclo,” starting their runs on July 12 (Kids’ Day), July 18, and July 25, respectively.
“Iolanthe,” one of two 2018 productions making a return to OLO (last performed in 2010), is one of the great collaborations by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. It originally opened in London and New York in 1882, and depicts a world in which women, in the guise of fairies, call the shots. One fairy, Iolanthe, married a mortal and gave birth to a son Strephon, who eventually takes a seat in Parliament, not by his choice, but when the Fairy Queen wants to punish him for a perceived misstep.
“La Périchole,” last performed by the OLO in 1993, has stood the test of time since its 1868 debut. The plot follows two young street singers, La Périchole and Piquillo, seeking money for a marriage license, however, the former falls prey to the advances of Don Andrès, the viceroy of Peru, and accepts an offer for a lady-in-waiting court position. The two lead characters are ultimately reunited for an arranged marriage, unbeknownst to them at the time, and then the fun begins.
“Cloclo,” which opened in 1924, has a number of intriguing storylines, including love between different social classes. A Parisian entertainer, Cloclo adores the extremely poor Maxime, but she also has an infatuation of the high life, and thus can’t resist the well-off Severin. Complications arise when Severin and his wife, under the impression that Cloclo is an illegitimate daughter, welcome her into their home.
One aspect that makes OLO so unique is that all seven productions – full-staged and full orchestra shows – are shown each of the last three weeks of the season. “We’re not a typical do one show and close,” Neill further explained. “We’re really the only ones that do this in North America to this extent. It works because it’s a destination. (People) come and they stay. I really think it’s the uniqueness that makes it work also. We’ve grown, but stayed true to the mission.”
While there will not be a formal 40th anniversary celebration, Neill believes the fifth annual symposium on lyric theater tradition, held July 31-Aug. 3, will be a highlight. “The symposium has become very popular. Top level people within the field will come in and lecture, which gives us that academic aspect, and also something extra for the fans who are really devoted. We’ll do a little bit of celebrating that week,” she said.
Much more information is available at the Ohio Light Opera website, where tickets can be ordered, or call (330) 263-2345.