Ball at the Savoy

Original book by Fritz Lohner-Beda & Alfred Grünwald

English Translation by Gerald Frantzen & Hersh Glagov

Directed by Kristen BarrettConductor: Anthony BarreseChoreographer Todd RhoadesProduced by Chicago Folks OperettaAt Stage 773, Chicago

Toe-tapping, fun Berlin operetta is part classic operetta and part jazz-infused Broadway musical!

Almost unknown in America, Paul Abraham was the toast of Berlin in the late 1920’s – 30’s with his jazz-infused, sexy dancing operettas. He combined the classical German-styled operettas in the tradition of Franz Lehar with the contemporary jazz style popular in Weimar Germany. His whimsical musical style included rich ballads, tantalizing ‘show-stoppers,’ snappy dance numbers, tangos, as well as haunting lover songs such as the haunting love song: “Toujours l’amour.” These ingredients, especially with the peppy jazz syncopations, instantly became popular until the Nazi’s shut down Ball At the Savoy, which opened in December of 1932, in 1933 after which Abraham, (a Jew) fled Germany. Paul Abraham is credited with having the last creative works of Weimar Germany. Ball At the Savoy featured the ravishing German entertainer Gitta Alpar.

Originally in German, the creatives at Chicago Folks Operetta, who specialize in translating German operettas into English include Gerald Frantzen and Hersh Gfagov. Ball At The Savoy is faithful to the original without being anachronistic. Sung in English by a stellar cast accompanied by a 21 piece orchestra is an infectious dance-infused comic romp.

The story borrows from Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Die Fledermaus but it is set in Nice in the French Rivera in a terrific multi-level Art Deco set (designed by Adam Veness) with lush period-perfect costumes designed by Kate Kamphausen. We meet the newly wed couple on their year long honeymoon: Madeleine (terrific performance by Alison Kelly) and her dashing husband Aristide (the golden voiced Gerald Frantzen). As they return home, Aristide receives a telegram from an old lover who demands he live up to an old promise to her. He seeks the help from his pal Mustapha (the fantastic singer/dancer Ryan Trent Oldham) who devises a plan to get Aristide out of his trouble. But when Madeleine’s American cousin Daisy (Cynthia Fortune Gruel) arrives, that plan is doomed. The convoluted plot allows Aristide to appear to be betraying Madeleine who plots revenge by also betraying him 0 or so we think.

This cute, light-weight operetta motif allows for an assortment of funny songs that range from dance numbers including tangos, a Charleston and a new dance dedicated to a kangaroo! Composer Abraham demonstrates his whimsical side in this fun operetta. Oldham and Gruel combine for several dazzling numbers.

But, of course, all is forgiven when the couple learns that neither cheated at the Ball At the Savoy and that the Turk Mustapha finally has found a ‘keeper’ wife on his seventh marriage. Tangolita (Bridget Skaggs) keeps luring men while Celestin (the hilarious Matt Dyson) has an ‘honorable’ time with Madeleine.

Alsion Kelly and real life husband Gerald Frantzen nail their powerful operetta songs while Ryan Trent Oldham and Cynthia Fortune Gruel get the cute, humorous dance numbers. The 22 member cast features terrific ensemble singing, dancing with spot-on acting quips.

Chicago Folks Operetta has once more mounted a most enjoyable treat with Ball At the Savoy!

Some may remember Chicago Folks Operetta’s fantastic productions of The Land of Smiles, The Circus Princess and The Cousin from Nowhere. You can add Ball At the Savoy to that fine list.

What makes this operetta standout is the fact that Ball At The Savoy is a combination of German operetta with a large infusion of jazz inspired music hall and Broadway musical. Jazz , Broadway musical, and operetta patrons have much to enjoy here. Ball At The Savoy passes the ‘Jerry Herman’ test – it has hummable, take-home songs like the haunting “Toujour l’ amour.” Ball At the Savoy is in its American premier at Stage 773.

Come see this delightful operetta/ Broadway musical- you’ll have fun and be blow-in away by the stage craft and voices of this most worthy troupe of artists. The Chicago arts community is enhanced by the craft of the creatives at Chicago Folks Operetta-their numerous English translations of German operetta give voice to those forgotten musical treats. Come see Ball At the Savoy to understand the wonder of these gems!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: July 18, 2014