Tag Archives: Montclair State University

David T. Little’s ‘Dog Days’ will blow you away

John Kelly as Prince and Lauren Worsham as Lisa in the world premiere performance of "Dog Days." (Photo: James Matthew Daniel)

John Kelly as Prince and Lauren Worsham as Lisa in the world premiere performance of “Dog Days.” (Photo: James Matthew Daniel)

Be prepared to hold onto your seat if — as you really should — go to see “Dog Days,” the new opera from composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek now in its world premiere run at the Alexander Kasser Theater in Montclair, N.J.

Composer David T. Little (Photo by Merri Cyr)

Composer David T. Little (Photo: Merri Cyr)

While the extremely dark, comedic piece is clearly a team effort (Jim Findlay‘s scenery, live video and video design lend the piece extra oomph), it’s Little’s powerfully dramatic music that makes the tale so compelling. The emotional score, with spiky, jarring moments, never loses its lyrical bearings. “Dog Days” signals Little as one of the great compositional voices of his generation.

(Click here for a video preview.)

Focusing on one American family that has, so far, survived a vaguely described apocalypse, the opera grapples with questions of human relationships, their limits and even what it means to be human.

The opera is based on a short story of the same title by Judy Budnitz. While the opera makes the story arc understandable, I regret not reading the story before seeing the sold-out first performance at the Kasser, a jewel of a theater on the campus of Montclair State University.

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Two storms collide: Hurricane Katrina and Josephine Baker

PeakPerfs josephine_boa MAIN

The narrator of Looking for Josephine, the joyous Josephine Baker revue that ended its American premiere run Sunday afternoon as part of the ambitious Peak Performances series at Mointclair State University’s Alexander Kasser Theater, explains why the American singer was not fully appreciated in her home country: She was too much of a clown. She was too African.

At Saturday night’s performance, I realize that even though Josephine died more than three decades ago, some things haven’t changed. At least one person in the audience last night was put off by the story — its French-ness (“It’s not in English”) and Josephine’s whirlwind free-spirited-ness (“He’s going to strip her?”).

The production by La Compagnie Jérôme Savary is that it is rather conservative. Josephine, played splendidly by Nicolle Rochelle,  is never actually nude — even at her least-dressed she appeared to be wearing pasties. Yet the suggestion of nudity was bothersome to at least a few.

Jérôme Savary

Jérôme Savary

The book is rather slight. It offers a sketch of the life of Josephine told through the eyes of residents of New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina. The show opens with three characters in an inflatable boat, waiting for the floodwaters to recede. A French theatrical producer, Slap Goldman (Michel Dussarrat, who also designed the costumes) shows up, seemingly oblivious to the damage and human suffering around him, looking for someone capable of playing Josephine in a production of La Revue Nègre that he is staging back in France.

Slap’s eyes light upon Cindy (Rochelle), who’s in the boat with Old Joe (Walter Reynolds) and Tom (Allen Hoist). One thing leads to another, and Cindy goes off to France, where she plays Josephine. The story comes full circle when Cindy gets a break in her performance schedule and returns home to Nola to find that Old Joe died while she was away.

The show is entertaining and has spectacular singing and dancing. But at times it goes off the rails when it tries to tap serious themes, as it does in a disconcerting scene of devil-may-care dancing performed in front of a projected backdrop of filmed Ku Klux Klan demonstrations and cross burnings.

The show is not entirely ven informative at times. After all, how many of us remember Josephine as a paragon of Civil Rights? Yet she was. For instance, a photo of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. flashed on the backdrop serves as a reminder that King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, offered Josephine a leadership role after King’s assassination.

If you missed this show, Peak Performances has plenty of other music and dance offerings this season, including a one-off concert by pianist Mario Formenti this Saturday evening. . All the productions tend to be first rate, and, with tickets priced at a rock-bottom $15 this season, the value is high. Check out the schedule here.