Oscar Straus’ A Waltz Dream opened last night in a Toronto Operetta theatre production at the St. Lawrence Centre. The piece premiered in Vienna in 1907 and soon became a huge international hit with various English versions appearing quite early on. The version given by TOT appears to be a 1970s version with book by Michael Flanders, Edmund Tracey and Bernard Dunn and the music adapted and arranged by Ronald Hanmer.
In some ways it’s an odd work. I wasn’t entirely sure whether it’s intended as a straightforward “original” operetta, a homage to the genre or send up of it. The tone is set by the setting. We are in the princely state of Rurislavenstein. which really says it all as far as any serious intent may be concerned. It has so many elements consciously or unconsciously borrowed from the Viennese operetta canon; the overbearing wife, the couple who have more difficulty expressing their mutual affection than Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot, the flirtatious singer/chorus girl who saves the day, the pompous court official. All it really lacks is a drunk gaoler. The humour is a bit ponderous in.a Germanic sort of way and even Michael Flanders doesn’t seem to have injected any real humour. Perhaps it needs a hippo? But I think we must accept it as neither homage or send up and with enough of a willing sense of disbelief it sort of works.
It’s well crafted and moves along nicely once one has forgotten how ridiculous the story is. It’s also pretty good musically with some good ensemble numbers and the famous Act 2 waltz theme. Guillermo Silva-Marin’s production and his cast treat the piece with just enough respect to make for a fun and enjoyable show. It’s colourful. Lots of fun is had with the masquerade scene. Greg Finney in a leotard is surely a first (and one hopes last). The singing is good, and the movement perhaps even better and there’s eye candy for all tastes. I could have used a large glass of Grüner Veltliner but one can’t have everything.
The cast is headed up by Andrea Nuñez as the Crown Prince’s daughter Helene, and Scott Rumble as Niki, the Austrian hussar officer, whose wedding the entire plot revolves around. This pair are definitely the most operatic part of the cast with strong, accurate and almost dramatic singing. They also act well. Sean Curran, as the Crown Prince, is a suitably henpecked royal with the pecking done, with Lady Bracknell like charm, by Karina Bray. Keith Klassen plays the bumbling chamberlain/lord chief justice/fixer with his usual comedic talent. There’s an injection of faux Viennoiserie from Amy Moodie and Alexandra Weintraub (you can tell they are Viennese not Rurislavensteinisch because their shoulders are daringly bare). Both sing very nicely and the latter is an exceptional mover. Moodie is really quite amusing as she trains the young princess in flirtation. Greg Finney, leotard and all, is at his best as the initially rather conniving but ultimately love struck Count Lothar. Elisabeth Beeler . as the older Lady in Waiting, trying to keep Helene from disaster and Austin Larusson as Montschi, Niki’s ADC, trying to keep his boss out of trouble are both effective. There’s good work from the small chorus too.
There’s a ten piece band which provides plenty of colour and volume enough for the Jane Mallett Theatre. Derek Bates conducts with vigour and is sensitive to the pacing of the plot.
I don’t think A Waltz Dream is one of the best pieces in this genre, though once upon a time people did. That said the TOT gang do a very decent job with it and it ends up as an enjoyable evening at the theatre.
Oscar Straus’ A Waltz Dream continues at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts until Sunday.
Photo credits: Gary Beechey