You can trust Milwaukee Opera Theatre. They know what they’re doing. You don’t have to know anything about opera. You don’t even have to look a the title of the show. Just buy a ticket, find a seat and let the show start. MOT’s Jill Anna Ponasik has mastered the art of bringing together an impressive array of cleverly disparate elements that tap into the talents of so many different people without compromising the integrity of the composition of that which she’s bringing to the stage. This weekend, Ponasik opens a production of Zie Magic Flure that lives-up to Ponasik’s reputation. For the produciton, Ponasik collaborates with talented local theatrical visionary Brian Rott of Quasi Mondo Physical Theatre and Cadance Collective is staged in the round at a gorgeous space in the Historic Tripoli Shrine Center with a playfully modern English adaptation by Daniel J. Brylow.
A prince and a bird catcher find love with a princess and an illusive love in a mythical world between the sun and the moon which is brought into a hypnotically detailed performance space. There’s a rich visual diversity at work. A plushy triceratops and a menagerie of other puppets (including a giant dragon) exist in a world of disco balls, crushingly beautiful Wagnerian warrior ladies, birds cast about the sky on fishing rods and so much more. The Prince falls in love with the princess having only seen her image in View-Master®. Even THAT seems to makes sense stylistically. Ponasik and company fill every corner of the space. Look closely and you’ll see the unmistakable Zachary Dean silently watching it all from a balcony...a bearded inverted homage to Raphael’s cherubim in a powdered wig. It’s a clever visual signature that adds to the spectacle of a truly captivating show that cleverly packs so much into such a small space.
Sitting down to write a review of the show I feel a bit like a barker in front of a circus tent:
"Come into the round folks and don’t be shy. Witness love conquering all in a tale of magic and mystery breathtakingly brought to the stage with the music of a legend. You will see shadow puppets...a plush menagerie so diverse as to include a playful triceratops. You will see opera on roller skates gliding an arc of passion around the heart of comedy. You will see a valiant hero armed only with a flute staring down a massive dragon. You will even see Mark Corkins...in a fez!"
At the heart of it all are some impressive performances. Corkins commands wisdom and authority in the role of the sorcerer Sarasto--arch-enemy of the Queen of the Night, played by Sarah Richardson. Richardson delivers brilliantly on the challenging Der Hölle Rache...probably the single most recognizable piece of music from the opera. (One of the most recognizable arias ever written.) Benjamin Ludwig is suitably charismatic as the hero Prince Tamino who falls deeply in love with princess Pamina, charmingly played by Lydia Rose Eiche. Comedy is capably brought to the foreground Nathan Wesselowski as the bird catcher Papageno.
Much of Ponasik and Rott's success with the show lies in giving every person working on the project their own little corner of the double-tiered circle to play with. Jessi Miler, Jenni Reinke, Andrew Parchman and the physical theatre types from Quasi Mondo bounce and bound around the edges of everything as spirits in 18th century attire and powdered wigs. Their presence amplifies the intensity of the emotions circulating around the production. Anja Sieger’s shadow puppets deliver the backstory and set the mood with a simple overhead projector on a white banner that vanishes into the balcony the moment its movement ends. Christal Wagner glides around swiftly on roller skates as the illusive Papagena and it fits perfectly in with everything else even though she's the only one in the entire cast on wheels.
A dizzying array of different elements roll around a circular stage so cozy and intimate that it feels like everything could easily come crashing into everything else. It all runs so smoothly, though. There’s an impressively playful stylistic balance about the show that keeps it all slicing swiftly from movement to movement in moment after moment of magic.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Quasimondo Phyiscal Theatre and Cadance Collective’s production of Zie Magic Flute runs through Jan. 27 at the Triploi Shrine Center on 3000 W. Wisconsin Ave. For ticket reservations and more, visit Milwaukee Opera Theatre online.