Holiday classic a pleasing tale for young, old
By JOSEPH T. ROZMIAREK
Special to The Advertiser
Honolulu Theatre for Youth presents the Christmas classic "Amahl and the Night Visitors" just in time for the holidays.
The 1951 opera by Gian Carlo Menotti was commissioned for television, but was written with an eye toward live stage production as well.
The simple plot of a crippled shepherd boy who offers his crutch as a gift to the Christ child is appealing to both children and adults and provides an excellent introduction to serious musical theater. The story line is clear, the characters are well-defined, and the English lyrics can be understood without subtext.
Director Eric Johnson makes it even more accessible to a youth audience.
It starts with a warm-up by cast member Jordan Savusa, who sings the pre-show announcements about turning off cell phones and locating the bathrooms. Having initiated us to sung dialogue, he informs the audience that they will sing the shepherd's part in the opera, rehearsing us in the lyrics and getting volunteers to go on stage.
The production also sustains a clear simplicity. Set design by Joseph Dodd features a sand-colored peasant hut against a star-filled indigo sky. Kings' costumes by Sandra Payne sport exaggerated silhouettes and richly colored fabrics. Single piano accompaniment by Eric Schank does not overpower the vocals.
The three kings (Gerald Altwies, Buz Tennent and Chad Williams) make a long and shadowy processional entrance around the audience, but are brought back to human scale with comic bits. Their huge headdresses are a difficult fit through the hut's door. One carries a biting parrot and is hard-of-hearing, requiring Amahl to sing loudly into his ear trumpet.
Chandler Bridgman sings the part of Amahl in a delicately clear boy soprano that is strong enough to be audible and intelligible. He also nicely expresses an outgoing character that is not cowed by his bad leg or awed by his royal visitors.
The production plays in under an hour and ends on the uplifting notes of Amahl's flute as he — miraculously cured — joins the kings in their journey to greet the newborn King.
"Amahl" appeals to young children, but parents are advised not to bring infants or toddlers, and to remove them from the theater if they fuss.