John Atkins, Peabody Southwell, Valerie Vinzant, Andrew Fernando, Benito Galindo, Vincent Chambers
Moscow Cherry Town
What: Opera by Dmitri Shostakovich, presented by Long Beach Opera, sung in bEnglish with English supertitles
Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 6424 Campus Drive, Irvine; Barnum Hall, 601 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica
When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Irvine Barclay Theatre; Sunday at 2 p.m. at Barnum Hall.
Information: (562) 432-5934, www.longbeachopera.org
By John Farrell
“Moscow, Cherry Town” came to Long Beach Sunday afternoon courtesy of Long Beach Opera for a hilarious, musical and lightweight two hours of bright tunes and silly situations.
Just once, unfortunately, but two more performances are scheduled, one tonight at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine and a second next Sunday afternoon at Barnum Hall in Santa Monica, and if you like your music light-weight and tuneful, or if you wonder what Dmitri Shostakovich, the heaviest of heavy-weight Soviet composers, could turn out when he was just having fun, you should go hear “Cherry Town.” You'll have a great time listening to parodies of everything from Lehar's “The Merry Widow” to nascent Soviet rock; the production, minimal but just enough for the action, the cast, funny, bright, and always charming and the orchestra, led by LBO's Artistic and General Director Andreas Mitisek provide a cheerful look at the USSR that is surprisingly biting and political.
Surprising because Shostakovich has a long history of difficulties with the Russian government. He was a successful composer in 1934 when his opera “Lady MacBeth of the Mtsensk District” ran afoul of Stalin, was back in a starring role in 1941 and then forced, in 1948, to publicly repent. By 1951 he was again back in favor, and when Khrushchev took power he apparently felt safe enough to collaborate with Soviet comic writers Vladimir Mass and Mikhail Chervinsky on “Cherry Town,” a comedy about the struggle of several couples and some typical Soviet bureaucrats over apartment space in the new Cherry Town apartment development, “happiness in a thousand concrete rooms.”
The staging by Jian Jung, Sunday on a modified thrust stage at the Long Beach Center Theater, is simple but effective: a sign that moves around, maps of the Soviet Union, and a large crane are center stage. Costume designer Leah Piehl uses overcoats, a mink stole and plenty of worker-style clothes to set the stage, and director Isabel Milenski uses a sure hand to keep things comically moving, using a large chorus and an equally large cast.
There are Sasha and Masha, (Andrew Fernando and Peabody Southwell,) a young married couple who live in separate dormitories because they can find nowhere to put a double bed, Lidochka the museum guide (Valerie Vinzant,) Semyon Semyonovich, Lidochka's father (Benito Galindo,) Boris the explosives expert (John Atkins,) Sergei the chauffeur (Vincent Chambers) and Liusia a construction worker (Jamie Chamberlin) all looking forward to their new apartments in Cherry Town. Fyodor Drebednev (Roberto Perlas Gomez) and Vava (Susan Hanson) are a rich apparatchik and his lover who want to get a double apartment by depriving someone else of their apartment, and Barabashkin (Robin Buck) is the apartment manager who doesn't want to give out the keys: that would turn the people who are begging him for favors into tenants he would have to serve.
All the action is set to some of the most tuneful music that Shostakovich ever wrote. Apparently he was at best ambivalent about the result, and though he composed more music for the 1963 film version “Moscow, Cherry Town” was allowed to sit on the shelf for twenty years, but has found a new audience which loves its raucous comedy, its exciting parodies and now looks, from the post-Soviet world, at the period with more than a little nostalgia.
The entire cast, mostly made up of LBO alumni, had a great time with their performances. Hanson was a delight as a blond bombshell on the Soviet make, Fernando and Southwell perfect as the love-starved young marrieds. Vinzant was a delight as the sexy but understated Lidochka, and Atkins was everywhere as Boris, romancing two women and singing with delight. But best of all, perhaps, was Buck as Barabashkin, the apartment manager afflicted with dreams of power. His villainy was always comic, especially when he and Perlas Gomez dressed up in tutus for a dream sequence that was a hoot. This wasn't grand opera by any means, but it was a whole lot of innocent fun, and at the end the good ended up happy and the villains were left sweeping the stage. What more could you ask?