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In performance: Treemonisha

Web-only review:

"Treemonisha" gets homespun treatment in shaky Savoyards production
By Joe Banno

Ragtime composer Scott Joplin's 1911 opera "Treemonisha" -- which opened Saturday at the Atlas Arts Center in a production by the Washington Savoyards -- is a mixed bag. Lamed by the composer's own witless, toothless libretto, this post-Civil War tale set among freed slaves nevertheless offers a forward-thinking moral: that formal education will trump the ignorance of superstition and allow a community to progress. And while Joplin is an elegant craftsman, this formulaic, anonymous-sounding operetta score comes to life only in three delectable choral scenes, where the composer allows his genius at ragtime to infuse the notes.
(read more after the jump)

It's those ragtime numbers that shine brightest in the Savoyards' uneven production (which opened the Atlas's three-week-long, multi-ethnic "INTERSECTIONS: A 'New America' Arts Festival"), where director Michael J. Bobbitt's clear, storytelling blocking and Pauline Grossman's folksy choreography meld effectively to compliment the chorus's attractively blended singing.

Elsewhere in the production, inconsistencies in vocal quality and acting ability among a variable cast become more obvious. Only a handful of the principals have the operatic chops for this material -- soprano Marilyn Moore's Monisha, tenor Doug Bowles's Parson Alltalk and, as a Treemonisha of silvery and luminous tone, soprano JoAnna Ford -- and musical-theater performer LC Harden, as the conjurer Zodzetrick, brings some jazz-savvy flair to the proceedings.

The less said about conductor Marvin Mills's sketchy, under-rehearsed pick-up orchestra, the better. But Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden's African-tinged, storybook cut-out sets and Eleanor Dicks's homespun costumes supply a welcoming, family-friendly frame for this flawed but well-meaning work.

"Treemonisha" continues through March 7th.

-- Joe Banno

By Anne Midgette  |  February 22, 2010; 1:22 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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