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REVIEW: Orpheus in the Underworld Goes Suburban (GSVLOC)

Orpheus (Jim Ahrens) with his alternating Euridices (Jennifer LeDoux and Nelle June Anderson) in the Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company’s current production of Orpheus in the Underworld.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company is back this fall with Orpheus in the Underworld, an English-language translation of the Jacques Offenbach operetta that made can-can dancing a pop culture phenomenon. If you’re looking for deep story, this is not the show for you; this is an evening (or afternoon) of some pretty and light music with humorous situational comedy.

The Love Police (Sarah Mehle, Cassandra Utt, and Anna Maher) strike a pose.

This is not the normal Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the story of the world’s greatest musician venturing into hell to try and save his just-deceased bride. Instead, this parody presents Orpheus and Eurydice as an unhappily married couple, with Orpheus going reluctantly in search of his bride under literally divine duress. The English adaptation used was developed for the English National Opera in 1984, and has a very British sense of humor to it.

Director Lesley Hendrickson has set the opening act firmly in Western suburbia, with costumes mostly evoking the 1950s. At the reviewed performance, Nelle June Anderson played Eurydice and Joe Allen covered the role of Pluto. Anderson’s Eurydice is courted by Wally Benbenek’s Jupiter and Allen’s Pluto, while generally trying to evade her husband Orpheus (Jim Ahrens). Anderson sings with a lovely and nimble soprano voice, diving into the comic absurdity of the plot. One of the show’s highlight is the famous Fly duet, played to great humor by Benbenek and Anderson.

This production is at its best when it embraces the delicious absurdities of the plot, as in songs like “He Is Coming, Oh, How Boring” and John Styx (Thore Dosdall)’s comic attempts to hit on Eurydice in “Though I Was The King Of All Boeotia”. Other highlights include scene-stealing appearances by Cupid (Maggie Burr) and the Love Police (Sarah Mehle, Cassandra Utt, and Anna Maher), the gods’ enthusiastic embrace of hellish food, and (of course) the infamous can-can.

Orpheus in the Underworld plays through November 19 at Plymouth Congregational Church’s Howard Conn Fine Arts Center in Minneapolis, MN.

Basil Considine

Basil Considine is the Performing Arts Editor and Senior Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Arts Reader. He was previously the Resident Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and remains an occasional contributing writer for The Boston Musical Intelligencer and The Chattanoogan. He holds a PhD in Music and Drama from Boston University, an MTS in Sacred Music from the BU School of Theology, and a BA in Music and Theatre from the University of San Diego.

Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017. He was previously the Regional Governor for the National Opera Association's North Central Region.