Just when you thought the College Light Opera Company might have run out of great material, it surprises you with a debut production of an 84-year-old musical that delights from beginning to end. Mark Pearson’s direction of Ralph Benatzky’s “White Horse Inn” crackles with wit and energy at the same time as it wallows in old-time romance and zany humor. And then there’s the music! Every song becomes a big production, perfect for this cast of 32 talented singers.
A solo, duet or trio is quickly supported by the rest of the cast in arrangements that are musically richer than most shows dare to be. Musical Director Jonathan Edward Brennand captures the spirit of fun deftly in a score that ranges from traditional German ballroom and Tyrolean yodeling to occasional strains of jazz. (And wasn’t that melody about the “lonely goatherd” “borrowed” from somewhere?) Choreographer Esther Widlanski defies the limits of the Highfield Theater stage to put the entire ensemble in motion several times in routines that fit perfectly with the comic spirit of the evening.
The plot involves multiple romances at an Austrian inn; three couples navigate tricky obstacles before the magic of the Alps and the intervention of an emperor bring them together in the right combinations.
Billy Hicks plays Leopold, the headwaiter who is the voice of calm and control midst the chaos of alpine tourist season. Mr. Hicks has a strong tenor voice that handles the complicated diction of funny songs and the tender laments of his unrequited love for his employer, Josepha, played by Maggie Langhorne. Ms. Langhorne can be tough and loud as the widowed manager of the inn but she can turn on the sweet soprano voice for her own love songs. She and Mr. Hicks also strut with the rest of the ensemble in rousing anthems to their beloved Austrian mountain town and to their emperor.
Michael McCann is Hutton, the handsome lawyer whose affections shift from one lucky lady to another and whose charming ways are expressed in flattering songs. His tenor voice joins Caitlin Ruddy’s (Natalie) in several beautiful duets.
Joshua Gronlund is Sylvester S. Sommerset, Jr., the wealthy scion of a Swampscott, Massachusetts, swimsuit manufacturer. All the S’s in that name and address become one of the tricky obstacles to winning the hand of Gretl (Nell Komlos)—her lisp makes her shy and she eschews S’s. Mr. Gronlund has fun as the self-styled perfect man— “It’s not my fault God made me so sublime.” He and Ms. Komlos have several playful scenes.
Did I mention that there are dancing cows? Credit is given in the program to each of the two men who make up each of the three adorable cows and I’m sure each of them can profess to being the front half if asked by their friends.
No opportunity was missed to have fun with dancing. Chambermaids, waiters, milk maids, and alpine hikers get into the spotlights with catchy routines. A storm scene unlike any you will ever see rolls from one side of the stage to the other with a writhing knot of two dozen dancers huddling under a dozen umbrellas.
Celeste Lang is Kathi the postwoman who yodels the news and weather and leads the townsfolk in patriotic song. Gunnar Manchester plays William McGonagall, wealthy American who would rather be in Coney Island than Austria. Michael Richard, a rising freshman at Falmouth High School, is Piccolo, a busboy at the inn, whose persistence in pursuing tips is successful with the emperor but not with the headwaiter.
A great start for the College Light Opera Company. Don’t miss this one.
“White Horse Inn” continues Thursday afternoon and evening, June 26, and Friday and Saturday, June 27 and 28, at 8 PM. “George M!” opens on July 1 and runs to July 5. Tickets may be obtained by calling the CLOC box office at 508-548-0668.
Mr. Grace is a summer resident in Pocasset and a frequent reviewer for the Enterprise.