'Hungarian Nights:' a success in its premiere
Published 2:45 pm, Monday, November 22, 2010
Norwalk's resident composer of children's and adult musicals, Cheryl Kemeny, and also the founder of Crystal Theatre itself, a learning and performance experience for young people from elementary up through high school, this time drew on her own background in her new piece, which is designed for both young performers and adults. Last weekend, the adult cast premiered "Hungarian Nights," which is an operetta combining classical and contemporary elements, including traditional Hungarian music in the vocal music and the dancing, which was excellent, by the way, choreographed by Char Fromentin.
The story is somewhat derivative, but what isn't these days? It's basic theme is a love story between a young aristocratic girl and a Count to whom she was promised by her dying father. (You knew there was something odd about that Count right away!) Yes, he was definitely of the Dracula sort, as were his "nieces," all gorgeous, but with an odd way of showing their affections. It has a bittersweet ending, but also a satisfying one. The show also incorporates a lively clan of singing, dancing gypsies, and for the occasion, Kemeny imported a genuine, traditional, and virtuostic gypsy violinist, Jeno Varga, who she discovered in her travels to Hungary doing research for this show. He was wonderful!
The cast was very large, and everyone put their heart and soul, as well as talent into this one. There was a particularly nasty group of bad guys, the count's henchmen, played with great enthusiasm, and who got exactly what they deserved from the militant posse of gypsies who eventually triumphed. The large, well-disciplined ensemble was very good indeed. The mysterious Count Dako was Mike Longo, a young tenor from New York, who will be remembered for his work in last season's "Cleopatra," also by Kemeny. He did a fine job with this piece, both vocally and dramatically. His beautiful love Illona was played by Melissa Labbadia, who had some truly lovely, sympathetic moments, especially in the mysterious, dreamy atmospheric scenes. These were very well executed technically.) Betsy Simpson, as Illona's maid a true lyric soprano, Cidalia Alves, a dark, warm mezzo-soprano. Christopher Dehn and Misha Schmidt were all outstanding in supporting roles, but the entire show was well-cast, and everyone worked at the most professional level possible. Even Buffalo Bill (Matthew Bunce) turned up at the beginning, when his European tour was cleverly tied into this story. The book was written by Marriner Pezza, and an excellent small orchestra was conducted with style and strength by Alexandrea Kemeny.
Cheryl Kemeny has written countless original musicals, and grooms them to fit the talent she has at her fingertips in her classes and casts. Her work over a couple of decades has continued to develop in every way, and "Hungarian Nights" is a remarkable, authentic and classy work and a great success in its premiere, and the piece undoubtedly will, as many works do, continue to develop. Through her frequently award-winning accomplishments, with which I am very familiar have been for some time, since she is also a valued colleague, Kemeny is a source of great pride to all who are associated with her.