SA Light Opera Society (SALOS)
Tower Arts Theatre
Until 28 Apr 2019

Review by Helen Karakulak

The SA Light Opera Society’s production of “The Gypsy Princess” was a turbulent three-hour depiction of the erratic love between celebrated cabaret performer, Sylva Varescu, played by Danielle Ruggiero-Prior, and Prince Peter Von Leydersheim, played by Andrew Smith. Despite a dedicated cast, the performance lacked dexterity, specifically due to misplaced chemistry, idle lighting and unrefined choreography.

Notable performances include the ‘lovely little ladies of the chorus’. These ladies, played by Maria Davis, Vinuri Gange and Lillian Rilett bring much-needed energy to a musical performance that wholly encompasses the catchy lyrics. However, without microphones and lack of projection, moments of their solos were dulled by the overpowering instrumental of Michelle Hassold’s musical ensemble.

Overwhelming volume aside, the polished orchestra assists in making the lengthy production lively. Unfortunately, members of the ensemble struggle to remain in time with the upbeat tempo, with choreography lacking in finesse disrupting audience engagement.

Smith, making his SALOS debut as the charming prince Peter, proves his vocal talent and suitability to romantic roles, his posture improving with every stride taken towards Sylva and previously demure facial expressions perking up at her entrance.

However, when the two embrace it is overwhelmingly uncomfortable. Tension built throughout the rest of the performance, complimented by Smith and Ruggiero-Prior's strong vocals filling out Emmerich Kalman’s impressive score, is ultimately lost in the seconds of hesitation prior to each kiss. Both actors look uncomfortable in the embrace, to the point of noticeably flinching before the first peck, disrupting the believability of the couples’ apparent love.

During most of the couple’s interactions, a coloured wash is applied to the stage, transitioning to a spotlight following the performers. However, the spotlight often failed to encompass the protagonists in its light, lacking a much-desired focus, became distracting rather than immersing.

Alternatively, Dione Baker gave an impressive performance as Stasi, Prince Peter's cousin, to whom his parents wished him to be wed despite knowing of his feelings for the cabaret star. Baker and Smith offered a refreshing portrayal of the charming hostility held in their unique situation. Caring deeply for Peter, Baker’s Stasi held a firm but fair attitude towards him, delivered well through confident characterization and graceful movements, from scolding Peter to reveling in the overwhelming attention of Count Bonifaska, played by Peter Potts.

Baker’s characterisation made Stasi likable, giving hope she may find happiness with the count, allowing the plot to wrap up nicely, with the comparatively passionless Sylva and Peter to also be together.

The combination of both dramatic and comedic elements erratically straying from one another made it difficult to decipher the director, Pam Tucker’s, intent. The lines between these elements were blurred to the point of forging doubt regarding whether the performance was purposefully unpolished with the intent of being a farce.

If a farce, it succeeded in paying homage to tropes common to tragedies through exaggerated movements, rudimentary characterization and choreographed confusion. This was specifically evident in Sylva’s outbursts, with Ruggiero-Prior stamping her foot like a tantrum-throwing child to express her distain. Although amusing, disregarding her character as hysterical and juvenile sacrifices the genuine nature of future moments in which her choices regarding her relationship and career are supposed to be taken seriously.

Even so, few comedic moments are well-executed. Most laughter relies on forced cultural references that have no place in Vienna, 1925. Specifically, dialogue referring to budgie-smugglers and Red Rooster were a particularly unnecessary attempt to make characters written without any real charisma to be likable. As a result, the show heavily relies on deriving laughter through repetition of one-liners which lose their spark after the first act, becoming tiresome.

At an approximate three hours, including the interval, the production drags on, which can be excused so long as you don’t fixate on the accuracy of the presentation of the time, or expect a distinct genre. Despite this, there is enough energy brought by the lead performers, along with engaging musical talent to provide some entertaining moments.