Reviews

Sweeney Todd

Director Jeffrey Fiorello’s large cast gives the audience a performance of hair-raising chills, spectacular music and non-stop dramatic action. There is so much that is outstanding about this production it is difficult to know where to begin . . . Given this spectacular limited-run production by Light Opera of New Jersey at SOPAC, you’d better hurry to make reservations because it’s bound to be sold out long before the last performance. The subject is not for the faint-hearted, but for something completely different from the all-too-usual fluff, make an appointment to see Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street and be fleet about it! — Ruth Ross NJ Arts Maven Read her full review here

The Barber of Seville

…..on Saturday night. We had SUCH a great time and loved the performance!

The quality of the musicians, set, costumes and overall professionalism of the whole production was so impressive and well executed. The performance itself was such a delight – I loved how every performer really embraced their role in all it’s silly, schmaltzy hilarity and really gave all they had. There was never a dull moment and it was just sheer fun and joy!  V. Paik, Clifton, NJ

The Telephone / The Old Maid and the Thief

We are constantly amazed by the exceptional quality of the theater talent, both acting and vocal, that resides here in the Garden State (yes, I have said this before, but it demands repeating). This Saturday night, we had the opportunity to hear and see some of the outstanding classical vocal talent performing in our area.

The program was a double bill The Telephone and The Old Maid & The Thief, both by Gian Carlo Menotti. Menotti, may be best known for his classic Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors. The venue was a church, St. Mark’s, in the community of Basking Ridge. St. Mark’s is the home of the Light Opera Company of New Jersey. –Rick Busciglio, New Jersey Footlights.  Read  full review here.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

I had the pleasure of attending (and reviewing) the final performance of the Light Opera of New Jersey’s summer production, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Sunday afternoon, July 17, and although the run is over, I write this a week later to inform my readers of the existence and consistently superb work of this esteemed company so you will go the next time you see a post on this blog. — Ruth Ross NJ Arts Maven   Read her full review here.

A Little Night Music

“With the need for truly talented singer/actors to tackle the difficult material, Sondheim’s musicals are not often mounted by amateur theater companies. Director Jeffrey Fiorello has assembled a group of singer/actors in a production of A Little Night Music that surpasses one I saw several years ago in Philadelphia and is equal to the 2009 Broadway revival . . . If you’ve never attended a production by the Light Opera of New Jersey, this summer production (the last of the season) is an ideal introduction to the vocal magic performed by the troupe on a regular basis.” – Ruth Ross, NJ Arts Maven Read her full review here

“This Light Opera of New Jersey production is an absolute joy for both the eye and the ear. A truly first class musical event!” – Rick Busciglio, Northern New Jersey Theater Examiner Read his full review here

The Gondoliers

#1 This post from Andrea Stryer-Rodda…New York Gilbert and Sullivan’s principal accompanists: ………………………………………………..”Spent a delightful Friday evening in Basking Ridge NJ, seeing Light Opera of New Jersey’s production of The Gondoliers. I love intelligent inventiveness that works, and that was evident in the choice of instruments/instrumentation for a small ensemble accompaniment, in the staging and choreography that gave really good movement to the show in what is actually a rather tight space for that number of people without their looking cramped (love clever things like that), and the costumes, which were excellent in both acts. The chorus and small-vocal-ensemble work was excellent, good clear diction, clean phrasing, the more remarkable because the MD was at the piano and conducting only here and there with one hand. Casting was good throughout, no weak links even in the smaller vocal-cameo roles. Bill and Lauran Corson and their excellent MD, Lois Buesser, have a lot to be proud of in this group and this production, and I was very glad I went!”

#2

From Rick Busciglio, Northern New Jersey Theater Examiner…..

…………….We are constantly amazed by the exceptional quality of the theater talent that resides here in the Garden State. This Thursday evening, we had the opportunity to hear and see some of the outstanding classical vocal talent performing in our area. The venue was a church, St. Mark’s, in the community of Basking Ridge. St. Mark’s is the home of the Light Opera Company of New Jersey. Until several seasons ago it was known as the Ridge Light Opera Company. The company was founded 20 years ago by the husband and wife team of William and Lauran Corson. Bill is the lead producer/director with Lauran serving as the Artistic Director. Lauran is a soprano with impressive credits having sung professionally throughout the country in both opera and musical theater.

The production is Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers,or the King of Barataria” noted for not only being the most tuneful but also having the most dancing of all their works. Unlike many of the plots in opera or operetta, “The Gondoliers” has a surprisingly complex plot that at times seems to be a case for Miss Marple to sort out. Fortunately, a detailed synopsis is provided in the program right down to revealing the ‘surprise’ resolution. Don’t let that concern you, the joy is in the performances of the very impressive leads: John-Andrew Fernandez as Guiseppe Palmieri; Alex Corson as Marco Palmieri (Ben Krumreig alternates with Corson- each doing three performances); William Remmers as The Duke; David Perper as Luiz; Ryan Allen as The Grand Inquisitor; Hanne Dollase as The Duchess; Lyssandra Stephenson as Casilda; Kathleen Shelton as Tessa; Elena Bird as Gianetta (Samantha Dango alternates); and Katerina Nowik as Constanza and The Duchess.

Others in the large supporting cast are Mike Baruffi; Josh Berg; Jack Broderick; Daveda Browne; Luke Chiafullo; Laura DeFelice; Donna Lee Donelan; Tom Donelan;Sophia Donelan; Beth Gleason; Chang-Kuo Hsieh; Emma Peterson; C. Paige Porter; Frank Skokan; Susanna Su and John Lamb as the understudy for The Grand Inquisitor;

William Remmers and Ryan Allen are delights in their character roles, with the ladies: Hanne Dollase; Lyssandra Stephenson ; Kathleen Shelton; Elena Bird and Katerina Nowik all possessing marvelous voices. Kathleen Shelton and Elena Bird were particularly effective as the wives of the gondoliers in the amusingly choreographed “In A Contemplative Fashion.” John-Andrew Fernandez and Alex Corson are well paired as the brothers. Both fine actors, first class voices, and not bad on their feet (dancing). Other standout moments were provided by David Perper as Luiz (the drummer); Frank Skokan’s humorous gondolier; and Susanna Su as a leader of the peasant girls.

A very fine six piece orchestra is lead by music director Lois Buesser (piano). The others are: Serena Huang, flute; Ginny Johnston and Jenny Branch, clarinet; Andrew Pecota, bassoon; and William Remmers, percussion.

The creative staff members are: Lauran Corson, artistic director; William Corson, co-director and producer; William Remmers, co-director; Joanna Hoty Russell, assistant director

Thoroughly Modern Millie

Here’s a comment we received after opening night…..”Amazing, amazing AMAZING LAST NIGHT! I laughed so hard and smiled like a little child the whole time! Wow. The costumes, dancing, music, talent..you name it! We have the plays in the park in Edison but to be honest, this was far more wonderful. I am telling everyone I know to go!”

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Theater under the stars—al fresco, if you will—has its charms, especially if the air temperature is moderate, the humidity low and the moon full. Add energetic dancing, glorious voices and luscious costumes—well, who could ask for more on a summer’s eve?

The wattage emanating from the Light Opera of New Jersey’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie at Pleasant Valley Park in Basking Ridge is bright enough to compete with the starry skies above. Director/Producer Bill Corson has assembled a stellar cast to tell the story of Millie Dillmount, newly arrived in 1920s New York City from Kansas to seek her fortune, with plans to marry her boss for a thoroughly modern reason, wealth, not love. Of course, her best-laid plans go awry when she meets Jimmy Smith, Circle Line tour guide/theater usher, who sweeps her off her feet with a kiss, appears to betray her and then saves their romance with some startling revelations. Along the way, Millie meets a bevy of would-be actresses, a celebrity singer, an insurance executive and his office manager, and uncovers a plot to kidnap girls to be sold into white slavery.

Based on a film of the same name, starring Mary Tyler Moore, Thoroughly Modern Millie features a book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlon, and sprightly music and lyrics by Jeanne Tesori and Dick Scanlon, respectively. It was produced on Broadway in 2002. This sparkling production onstage in Basking Ridge is a feast for the eye and ears, perfect for the whole family.

Corson has cast a real winner as Millie. Lindsay Dunn (right) exudes star quality in spades; she’s destined for big things, I’m sure (watch out, Broadway!). Perky without being cloying, Dunn sings and dances with élan, moving from comedic songs (“The Speed Test”) to soulful ballads (“Jimmy”). And, she has a madcap sense of comedic timing that serves the wacky plot well, to boot.

Zack Halko’s Jimmy is adorable, and he does very well singing and dancing, whether he’s standing on a window ledge or in a jail cell. As Millie’s friend Miss Dorothy, Elena Bird’s clear soprano soars through the night air, as does her infectious girlish giggle.

And Scott Hart (center) turns in his usual marvelous performance as Trevor Graydon III, boss of the Sincere Trust Insurance Company. He is delicious as he puts Millie through her stenog paces, speeding up his dictation until it sounds like a Gilbert & Sullivan patter song. And his rendition of “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” brings down the house. And Jessica Idell (above, left center) is a hoot as the sharp-elbowed office manager Miss Flannery.

Comedic kudos are due four actors. Beth Gleason (center) is fabulous as Mrs. Meers, the pseudo-Chinese proprietress of the Priscilla Hotel. She turns what could be construed as a very un-politically correct character in to one of fun, both through her delivery of comic dialogue, terrific singing and ability to perform physical comedy. Matching Gleason is Joanna Hoty Russell as Muzzy Van Houssmere, celebrity chanteuse, who schools Millie in the art of romance. She swans into her penthouse apartment singing a paean to New York (where a nobody can become a somebody) and lights up Café Society in a number with her boys and Millie) extolling the wonders (and benefits) of love.

I have reserved the best for last. Changkuo Hsiesh (above right) and Edward Wang (above, left) are extraordinary as Mrs. Meers’ indentured servants, Ching Ho and his brother Bun Foo, who do her bidding in return for being able to bring their aged mother to America from Hong Kong. They speak their lines in real Chinese, not pidgin, which would demean the characters (translations are projected on a screen off to the side). They even get their own number, “Muquin (Room Service),” which they perform with Gleason. She is a riot when she “speaks” Chinese.

This production offers other pleasure, as well. Jill Cookingham has choreographed a series of lively and clever numbers nimbly performed by the large chorus. Clifford Parrish conducts an eight-piece orchestra that accompanies the cast without overpowering them (it also helps that the singers are miked). Tom Donelan and Jerry Moses have designed a set that is not only evocative but can be moved on and offstage fluidly. Lauran Corson and Mary LeGrow have assembled a magnificent array of color-coordinated period costumes (mostly from Scaramouche Costumes; above), that are a feast for the eyes. Fashionistas, take note! Sound by Troy DeLorenzo and Finn Malone, and lighting by Aaron Levine complete the atmospheric effect.

In 2011, Lindsay Dunn was nominated by Paper Mill Playhouse for her appearance as Millie in Wallkyll Valley High School’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Thank you to Bill Corson and the Light Opera of New Jersey for presenting Dunn to the public at large and surrounding her with a brilliant cast to bring the play to life in the hills of Somerset County. It is a real musical theater treat that is not to be missed.

by Ruth Ross, NJ Arts Maven

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The Magic Flute

. . . superb production at Light Opera of New Jersey….this remarkable company is led by the husband and wife team of William Corson, resident director, and Lauran Fulton Corson, artistic director.

The excellent cast features Cameron Smith as the handsome prince Tamino; Elise Brancheau as the lovely Pamina, her second act solo was beautiful, clearly one of the highlights of the evening; Mark Wilson is marvelous in the fun role of Papageno, the silly birdcatcher, he is a superior clown with a terrific strong voice; Elizabeth Treat properly regal, but yet sinister as the Queen of the Night; Robin Lee is properly stately as the High Priest Sarastro; and Alex Corson, perfect as the brutal Monostatos, was an audience delight. We also applauded Alex last summer as Tony in New Jersey Youth Theatre’s “West Side Story” (we wonder where his talent comes from?).

The fine supporting cast includes Samantha Dango (First Lady), Joanna Hoty Russell (Second Lady) and Hanne Ladefoged-Dollase (Third Lady)…the Three Ladies of the Queen of the Night; Laura Zupa D’Avella’s role may be brief, but she sparkles as Papagena; Mike Baruffi and Changkuo Hsieh are the priests with Rick Morley as the speaker. Rick, just happens to be the Rector of St. Mark’s.

Special note is required for three beautifully voiced young men…Andrew Pulver, a sixth grader who has already made his Met Opera debut; GianMarco Cergnul Scotti who has performed in New York and Rome; and Lorenzo Jordan has already graced the stage at Carnegie Hall.

These talented singers are supported by the glorious sound of a 50 member orchestra, the Central Jersey Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Avagliano.(March 2014)”

Rick Busciglio, Northern New Jersey Theater Examiner

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Read the complete review. Footloose

The energetic opening number presages the success of Ridge Light Opera’s Plays in the Park summer production, Footloose. Bill Corson’s expert direction elicits terrific performances from the large cast—most of them teens or twenty-somethings—as they sing and perform Beth Amiano Gleason’s complicated choreography, moving with agility around the small stage.

imageThe plot is familiar to people who have seen both film versions (1984 and 2011). If you missed either, here’s the story line: After his father abandons the family, Ren McClintock and his mother move from Chicago to Bomont, a small town in the West where rock music and dancing have been banned after a tragic accident killed four teens returning from a dance five years earlier. Although he tries hard to fit in, Ren suffers an acute case of culture shock. The only person who relieves his loneliness is the lovely Ariel, daughter of the Bible-thumping minister responsible for the ban, a girl who rebels by dating the town thug. With the senior prom on the horizon, Ren rallies his classmates to overturn the ordinance and free the townspeople from repression. (Above: Samantha Ferrara and Ariel, Lauren Morra as Urleen, Mariella Klinger as Wendy Jo, Alex Corson as Ren, and Jeff O’Donnell as Willard)

Jaye Barre has designed a set that fits multiple uses; the church pews morph into soda shop booths and a train trestle spans two pews. Musical director Marion Doerr uses musical bridges to accompany scene changes so the mood doesn’t dissipate. Bill Corson’s lighting design directs our attention to various groups who appear on each end of the stage from time to time, and Marylea Schmidt and Eleanor Klinger’s costumes recall the 80s and a small town in the middle of nowhere very well.

While there are too many actors to mention (most of them are in the chorus of high school students and townspeople), several stand out. Ren McCormack is winningly portrayed by a grown-up Alex Corson (I remember him in the choruses of many previous shows), who commands the stage whenever he’s on it—which is most of the time. He sings and dances extremely well, especially in the jittery “I Can’t Stand Still” and his duet with Ariel, “Almost Paradise.” As Ariel, Samantha Ferrara is dynamite, from her petulant imagefacial expression and stance to the sadness of  “Learning to be Silent,” which she sings with her mother (Joanna Hoty Russell, above) in fine voice) and Ren’s mom (Laurie Wood). Their nemesis, Reverend Shaw Moore, is played by Tom Donelan (right), whose tuneful prayer, “Heaven Help Me,” makes us feel some sympathy for this man so hardened by the loss of his son that he punishes all the young people in town with his moralistic edicts. Lisa Littman and Ted Roper provide able support as Ren’s Aunt Lulu and Uncle Wes.

As for the kids of Bomont, they certainly are a lively bunch, despite being repressed by their elders. Allyson Hern (Rusty), Lauren Morra (Urleen) and Mariella Klinger (Wendy Jo) act like a Greek chorus, commenting several times on the town and its inhabitants, a place where “Someone’s Eyes” are watching all the time. Tyler Ableson is appropriately crass and scary as Chuck Cranston, the town thug; he’s matched very well by Jeff O’Donnell who plays the good ole boy Willard as a bit dim but with a great heart. He leads the entire company in a rousing version of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” setting everyone’s toes a-tapping and making us itch to get up and dance! (Left: Alex Corson as Ren and Jeff O’Donnell as Willard).

imageBy the time the lights go down, by the time the orchestra and singers have sung the last note and danced the last step to the finale “Footloose,” you’ll have had a grand time out in the hills of Somerset County and learned a few good things besides. Suspicions, repression and no fun spell “trubl,” as Willard so succinctly puts it. And as Mrs. Moore tells her husband, “If we don’t trust our children, how can they become trustworthy?” A good thought, that!
Ruth Ross nj arts maven blog

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“… Director Bill Corson has helmed a thoroughly professional production worthy of any Savoyard production, here or in London. The lovely melodies and witty lyrics make the silly plot palatable and, when sung by trained and talented singers, glorious. H.M.S. Pinafore
Ruth Ross, Drama Critic

“(RLO singers) performed the material with a degree of verve and expert excellence that truly put this section of the program in a league of it’s own. Mr. Corson’ direction and the ensemble’s execution were exemplary.”
John Hammel, Classical New Jersey Society Journal

“…one takes great pleasure at being entertained by the music of master composers and the words of top notch lyricists performed by consummate professionals… a musical bonbon for all ages.”
Ruth Ross, Drama Critic “Out and About” Recorder Newspapers

“Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed Iolanthe! The performers were terrific, and I can’t believe how much staging you worked into a ‘concert’ performance — all the bits of business were really fun. And, as always, the music was glorious!”
HC, Gillette NJ

“Stage Director Bill Corson has once again applied his sure directorial hand to this year’s September Song gala, providing apt roadmaps along the musical highway, by expertly presenting selections from four diverse works and pithily encapsulating the core of the stories in song and movement.” (September Song 2003)
John Hammel, Classical New Jersey Society Journal

“Dear RLO, My wife and I saw your production of Pirates in Basking Ridge this past Sat. and would rate it as nothing short of incredible. The cast was a dream and the staging and choreography caused nonstop smiles punctuated by out and out laughter. Thank you for a great evening.”
Jeff and Peggy Mark

” …all players demonstrated admirable skill at dancing as well as acting and singing, in fact Corson’s choreography was a major element of the production’s success. The orchestra sounded terrific… the large, enthralled audience sat hanging on to every delectable moment [including a] large number of high school and younger listeners discussing the possibility of returning for future visits. Pirates of Penzance
Robert Butts, Classical New Jersey Society Journal

The Pirates of Penzance is ideal for outdoor informality because its slapstick humor is easy on the eye, and its score, from lyrical songs to patter tunes, is music to the ears… spectators of all ages, from children to their grandparents, laughing at the pratfalls and humming along with the melodies.”
Bette Spero, Star Ledger

“For the opera aficionado, who think that a night of Opera highlights will undoubtedly lead to disappointment: think again! For the opera novice and/or young person this OPERAgious!!  was a great introduction into the possibly overwhelming world of opera. The singing and acting, made up of extremely talented amateurs and professionals were strong throughout.”
Nan Childress Orchard, Classical New Jersey Society Journal

“Ridge Light Opera presented a professional, polished and very entertaining evening of lush melodies, uproarious physical comedy and inventive staging that delighted the crowd of 1200+… Super Performance… What a glorious production… not-to-be-missed”  Pirates of Penzance
Ruth Ross, Drama Critic “Out and About” Recorder Newspapers

“Under Bill Corson’s deft direction and choreography, the talented ensemble of singers shook the rafters of the church parish hall… If you love musical theatre of all types you’ll want to catch this one… don’t miss this musical treasure.”
Ruth Ross, Drama Critic “Out and About” Recorder Newspapers