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Orpheus in Hades

At Lowell House

By Thomas K. Schwabacher

The Lowell House Musical Society appears to be doing its part in the current religious revival at Harvard by undertaking a program aimed at the restoration of paganism. After staging an Americanized version of the Trojan War last year, the Society has now turned to Jacques Offenbach's irreverent 19th century reworking of the Orpheus myth. While the moral effect of such an undertaking might be questionable, its entertainment value in the current installment is fairly high. Orpheus in Hades is very nearly an excellent show.

Offenbach's brand of light opera is ever so much more frothy than its contemporary Anglo-Saxon counterpart, with little of the latter's pointed if slightly aging satire. It consists for the most part of many very agreeable musical pieces linked together by a singularly loose thread of plot. This plot centers less on Orpheus, represented as a violinist with a vast distaste for Eurydice, than on Jupiter's attempts to get her away from the tender mercies of her kidnaper, Pluto, so that he may have her for his own tender mercies. Jupiter's efforts are complicated by a revolution on the part of the lesser gods, who are bored with the food in heaven. The proceedings have been rendered into generally amusing English by Wayne Shirley, who translated the lyrics, and Anne Rand Eldridge, who did the dialogue. F. William Kaufman provides some touches of satire in the form of additional dialogue, which consists largely of references to recent Broadway and Harvard shows.

The cast of this show is large enough to make some variation in skill among its members inevitable. Fortunately, however, the three principals are all very good. Harold Scott leers through the part of Jupiter with just the right amount of abandon, and gives it a most amusing kind of mock dignity. He also reveals a pleasant singing voice, which, if not overly strong, is generally clear and understandable. Sara-Jane Smith, as Eurydice, proves herself the best singer in the show with a soprano that has both power and range. Though she seems less sure of herself during the spoken passages, her acting is, on the whole, quite equal to the demands which opera imposes. Malcolm Ticknor makes a properly suave Pluto, and is by far the most capable male singer in the production. His voice is pure and his delivery carries authority.

Despite a voice of limited range, the outstanding member of the supporting casts is Lee Jeffries, who slinks about the stage in a tight gold dress as a wonderfully seductive Venus. In the role of Orpheus, Harvey White demonstrates the triple talents of violinist (good enough for light opera), singer (the same) and actor (a little too strained for comedy). Anne Wallace, as Diana, has a strong voice but it is difficult to understand her. And James Greene, who plays Styx, demonstrates a somewhat limited acting ability but nevertheless distinguished himself through his pleasant voice.

Keeping the large cast and the chorus, which is directed by James Armstrong, in motion about the stage is a job equalling in magnitude that of a circus ringmaster. Director Stephen Aaron performs it with skill, and the visual patterns he creates on John Ratte's simple but handsome set are generally attractive. Equally skilled is the choreography of Esther Brooks. She manages to keep the can-can, a dance which often involves more effort than it is worth, from degenerating into chaos. Musical Director John Perkins unfortunately demonstrates a less certain hand. The orchestra occasionally wobbles off key or drowns out the singers.

Nevertheless, Offenbach's frequently exhilirating music and the superb performances of Miss Smith and Mr. Scott place the Lowell House show safely among the ranks of successful productions.

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