nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
July 20, 2008
When theatre begins and ends with exuberance, the middle is filled with heartfelt poignancy, and the characters' aspirations and disappointments seep into your bones, what's to be done? Nothing less than "OPA!" Yes, celebrate with the ubiquitous Greek cheer that is meant as an enthusiastic endorsement. Opa! is also the name of the joyful, feel-good musical about the people on a remote island off the coast of Greece.
Smartly directed by Spiro Veloudos, Opa! is very much an ensemble piece. With nearly all 13 characters on the small stage most of the time (plus a four-piece combo), Opa! is nothing short of the actual village it represents. Congregating in the central square where all the action takes place are Costa, an olive oil farmer; his wife, Sophia, who feels that life has passed her by; their lovely daughter, Eleni, who loves the handsome, narcissistic Nicos; and Stavros, the young fisherman, who pines for Eleni. Also present is the henpecked Vasili, husband of Voula, a fiery, outspoken redhead; there is the wayward Soula; the inseparable male duo Dimitri and Panayiotis; an overburdened priest; Manos, the renowned villager who returns to the island years after fleeing to America and breaking Sophia's heart; and, of course, a matriarch named Xenia, who is also Costa's mother. The island of Elia is small, but the desires of its villagers are no different than elsewhere. They're looking for love and adventure, pining for what could have been, hiding shames that no longer matter, and finding joy in the comfort of one another.
Opa! begins aptly enough—a grumble here, a gripe there, a little bit of hope, and a slight—nothing new for this village, but just enough to lead to a communal shrug and an easy transition to the first number, "To Complain," which sets the tone for this tight-knit community.
Joseph Callari as Costa balances his pride and vulnerability neatly. As new mayor, he intends to prove wrong the words his father hurled at him as a young man ("You'll never amount to anything") by putting his island on the map. As his younger incarnation, Costa Nicolas mournfully sings "Like One of Them," yearning for the stature and privilege of the Evzon, the local military, to win the hand of Sophia. Carolee Goodgold gives us a rounded, three-dimensional character in her interpretation of Sophia. Having lost her first love, Manos, to the lure of America long ago, she still longs for adventure and for him. The plot thickens when she learns that Manos's yacht is close to shore. Patrick Riviere brings the memory of Manos into sharp focus. Sophia eyes the swarthy, stocky man before her and says, "You used to be taller." Still, big egos don't die easily and Manos reveals his self-centeredness in "But That's Enough About Me." There are scandals and lies and confessions; and the local priest, played with appropriate dour by Eric Rubin, has had enough. "I hate people," he says. "I love God."
Still, history repeats itself as the present slips into the past and the lovely Abigail Hardin, who doubles as daughter Eleni pining after the town Adonis, Nicos, and as young Sophia, trailing after Manos. Her voice is plaintive and pure in "It's So Hard to Choose." Michael Dionissiou gives a wonderful turn as the handsome Nicos (and as young Manos), bringing farcical humor to his rendition of "Why Am I So Beautiful?" The whole cast adds texture to the village and to the intimate relationships that are formed there. There's so much more. I haven't touched on the smooth resolutions.
Transitions from dialogue to song feel seamless throughout, with the lyrics pushing the story forward at every turn. Thanks to the adept editing of Mari Carras (book/lyrics) and her cohort, Laurel Ollstein (book), plot and subplots carefully unfold, using characters' yearnings and secrets as bait to keep intrigue and story moving at a pretty pace. Carras's father, Nicholas Carras, and Nicholas Kitsopoulos wrote the up-lifting music for Opa! Kitsopoulos also contributed lyrics. Solos, duos, and trios are sprinkled generously among the cast members, and the mix of vibrant, plaintive, and humorous songs kept this audience member engaged the full 95 minutes.
Wendy Waring, the choreographer, can be credited for the natural movement in the town square. Together with Athan Karras, Greek Dance Consultant, they developed joyful Greek dances, particularly one where the men crook their legs and slap their heels. Distinctive costumes were designed by Holly Cain, and a marvelous, full-size, cut-out tree designed by Anne Allen Goelz provides focus, color, and warmth to the town's gathering place. Dan Weingarten designed lighting, and Micah Young provided musical direction to the quartet.
Running with one intermission, Opa! is more than a festival presentation. It is a full-fledged musical of the old-fashioned sort, where you surrender your heart, accept the joy, and sing Opa! Truly, a must-see.