The Student Prince
By Sigmund Romberg
Directed by Eric Pinder
With the Space Coast Symphony Orchestra
Musical Direction by Aaron Collins
Starring Samuel Hall and Marina Jurica
Orlando Light Opera & Central Florida Vocal Arts
Presented at the Annie Russell Theatre
Winter Park FL
As someone in the lobby confided to me: “You forget how long these old operettas can take.” And at three hours running time, you might agree. We’ll get to that shortly, but here’s the play by play: Prince Karl Franz (Hall) and his tutor Dr. Engle (Joseph Ryan) head off to Heidelberg to polish Karl’s social skills and escape the dreary Schloss Karlsberg. Attended by his snooty valet Lutz, (Eric Branch) Karl Franz falls for the popular barmaid Kathy (Jurica); this bumps up against his royal obligation to marry his cousin Princess Margret (Theresa Leigh Smith-Levin). The low class beer drinking company offends Lutz but Engle and the Prince enjoy their freedom until Karl is called back by Margret and her Lutz-like mother Grand Duchess Anastasia (Maeghin Mueller). Despite his promises to Kathy, Karl abandons her and prepares to enter a loveless marriage with the princess.
Most people know Romberg’s tale of royal lust and abandonment from the 1954 MGM film starring the voice of Mario Lanza; it presents the first act up to Karl Frantz’s departure from Heidelberg. Here the second act mostly serves to drive home the melodrama; Karl Frantz is much less likeable as he explicitly takes two years to break his promise to Kathy. Further, we see Margret has other interests in the form of dashing Captain Tarnitz (Kevin Romero). Everyone in this cast is at their best when singing; the speaking parts are often hard to hear except for Karl Franz; he can deliver his precise baritone all the way to the parking lot. He rocks “Heidelberg Fair” and dominates the ensemble number “Serenade.” Jurica keeps your attention as well; her strengths show her equal to Mr. Hall in their duet “Deep in My Heart, Dear”. The supporting cast has is gems as well: the anthem of this show “Drinking Song” is led by an excellent Count Detlef (Andrew LeJeune). Ms. Smith-Levine and Mr. Romero show their skills in the second act with “Just We Two.” Local favorite Eric Branch spends the show looking like he smelled cabbage fart; and Mr. Ryan matches well with Karl Franz as co-conspirators invading the demimonde of German education.
The original operetta has four acts and at least two intermissions. There’s just one break here, and it’s awkwardly set between acts two and three. That gives us the rousing act one closer “Will You Join Our Nobel Saxon Corp” taking us to a natural break; but the house lights stay down and a musical bridge plays as patrons sneak out to the rest room. The actual break between act two and three holds no natural stopping point in the action; but given the audience had two hours invested there was some attrition. There was some excellent singing and the wonderful Space Coast Orchestra on display here, but a good deal of the first act business could have been edited to give us a tighter and more 21st century-friendly show.
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