The Student Prince | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Student Prince

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The biggest Broadway hit of its decade, this 1924 operetta by Sigmund Romberg and Dorothy Donnelly was a throwback even in its own time. Set in 19th-century Germany, it unabashedly romanticized the mittel-European monarchies that had been destroyed in World War I, and its celebration of the joys of beer drinking must have resonated strongly with Prohibition-era theatergoers. The plot concerns a German prince's sojourn at the University of Heidelberg, where he makes love to a pretty barmaid when he's not carousing with classmates; romance and duty, in the form of an arranged marriage between the prince and a neighboring princess, inevitably clash, leading to an unhappy ending that the show's original producers, the Shubert brothers, wrongly feared would spell commercial disaster. The schmaltzy score, by Hungarian-born, Viennese-trained composer Romberg, is filled with boisterous choruses ("Drinking Song," "Come Boys, Let's All Be Gay, Boys"), lush romantic duets ("Deep in My Heart, Dear," "Just We Two"), and a sentimental male chorale ("Serenade") that still brings down the house. Light Opera Works' revival, directed by L. Walter Stearns and conducted by Roger Bingaman, sometimes falls prey to campy exaggeration (Henry Michael Odum as the prince's flouncy valet is especially egregious), but when the performers play the material sincerely, its youthful humor and earnest emotion carry the day. Meredith Barber brings high spirits and a soaring soprano to the female lead, and the mostly male supporting cast sounds excellent. But the real find here is Colm Fitzmaurice, making his Chicago debut as the prince; blessed with boyish good looks, appealingly honest dramatic instincts, and a gorgeous, full-bodied tenor, this promising young leading man has the potential to become a major artist. Northwestern University, Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston, 847-869-6300. Through December 30: Thursday, 2 PM; Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 2 PM. $24-$53. Then Monday, December 31, 8 PM. $38-$55.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Richard Foreman.

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