In William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, what happens in the forest stays in the forest. The same is true for Las Vegas in Long Beach Opera’s (LBO) The Fairy Queen, a unique cultural fusion structurally based on Shakespeare’s play, continuing this weekend at the Beverly O’Neill Theater.
During a night of drug-fueled debauchery, three couples mix and match partners, only to reawaken as if from a dream, all the while singing beautifully performed operatic masques to exquisite baroque music– a potent concoction not to be missed.
The Fairy Queen is actually a semi-opera in the English tradition that intersperses spoken word with song, set to original music by English composer Henry Purcell in 1692. This production– an innovative collaboration between LBO director Andreas Mitisek and skilled adaptors Chicano/Latino performance troupe Culture Clash– updates the setting and story to Puck’s (Marc Molomot) Las Vegas nightclub and hotel, Club FQ (for Fairy Queen), where each couple arrives for the weekend.
Lurking around the bar is drunk poet Shakes (Roberto Perlas Gomez), reciting sonnet lines and prompting characters to consume an elixir that causes each to fall in love with the next person they see– invariably not the person they arrived with. Since one of the couples is a newlywed gay pair, the confusion leads to an amusing variety of sexual experimentation.
And the sexuality is overt, including pole dancing, provocative caressing, simulated hetero- and homosexual acts and a sadomasochistic club performance between a woman in leather and a man in gold lamé shorts. Not for the squeamish, but almost all in good fun. The carnal excess also contrasts cathartically with the restoration of order when the couples revert to their original partners with renewed commitment, producing relief (for them and us) that this was all a dream and will never happen again.
The contemporary nightclub set design (Mitisek) includes bright-blue neon framing, hot pink and white fuzzy barstools and pillows, and multicolored bottles and glasses at the bar. The evocation of Suite 69 is a tad flimsier, but efficient. Lighting (Dan Weingarten) is similarly bright and colorful, and lights playfully dance over each character to conjure their emotional transformation after drinking the mind-altering potion.
Juxtaposing the wayward Vegas atmosphere are ethereal string-based baroque instrumentals performed by Musica Angelica, under the precise direction of Martin Haselböck, who also plays harpsichord. The orchestra, situated in full view above the stage, renders Purcell’s rhythmic music with ardor. The accompanying singing is similarly exceptional and transporting. The original songs, or “masques” that metaphorically suggest seasons or elements (like night), elevate the proceedings and provide emotional touchstones for each character.
Cedric Berry as Ron and Kimberly E. Jones as Tanya (based on King Oberon and Queen Titania in Shakespeare’s play) stand out with their incredibly moving, rich voices, he with a deep baritone and she soprano. Gomez as Shakes weaves physical comedy with surprisingly strong vocals, as does Molomot as Puck. And Alexandra Martinez-Turano, as Helena and an exotic dancer, manages to be flirty and steamy in a skintight red dress while delivering charmingly melodic notes. All the performers are highly skilled at both acting and carrying the complicated intonations of the songs with technical aplomb, usually singing from a variety of unlikely physical positions.
Overall, this production of The Fairy Queen succeeds as a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, its spicy inflection tempered by Purcell’s enchanting music, creating a quite a heady mixture.
The Fairy Queen continues at the Beverly O’Neill Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., with performances Saturday, Jan. 28, at 2:30pm and 8pm. Tickets are $49-$150. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 470-7464 or visit longbeachopera.org.