Irving — Dedicated, smiling Lyric Stage audiences clearly love the hushed anticipation before the overture of the company’s latest richly orchestrated musical productions. Excitement runs especially high when the show is a rarely performed operetta like The New Moon, a ship’s name and a romantic adventure with a thrilling score by Sigmund Romberg and lyrics by a young Oscar Hammerstein II, which premiered on Broadway in 1928.
Our expectations are rewarded—and then some—when conductor Jay Dias raises his baton over his 35-piece orchestra. We hear teasing hints of the many marvelous melodies to come, leading us right into the grand salon of a New Orleans mansion in 1788. A bevy of bright-voiced, tittering maids admire a silvery evening gown just delivered for their beautiful young mistress, Marianne, embodied by the elegant presence and exquisite voice of lyric soprano Kirsten Lassiter, mesmerizing in her delivery of a ravishing “One Kiss.” News arrives that a famous detective from the French court is about to appear and the household flies into comic preparations.
We’re off and singing in this sparkling, bold and playful concert staging filled with brave heroes and beautiful ladies, with a delightful dash of comic antics. Director Andy Baldwin keeps his superb 45-member cast moving swiftly and with dramatic agility through this lovely romp of a show, buoyed by 15 songs swelling with desire, bravado—or just plain foolery in some comic numbers.
Ensemble members sit on tiers in mid-stage, men in tuxedoes and women in lovely gowns in shades of blues and black with bare shoulders and bits of glitz at shoulder or waist. They step in and out of the action front and center, easily convincing as a crew of swaggering sailors or a ship full of brides headed for another shore. Aided by a few props—some beat-up old luggage or big shipping barrels—the story moves forward, from song to lovely song, placing the emphasis on Romberg’s melodies.
The book, by Hammerstein along with Frank Mandel and Laurence Schwab, focuses on French nobleman and revolutionary Robert, made sexy and daring by Christopher J. Deaton, a strong, flexible baritone with a smoldering glance and a sudden joyous smile that reaches the back of the hall in his ode to his beloved, “Marianne.” Robert has fled France because he’s killed three men to save his revolutionary lowborn friend. He sells himself as a bondservant to a wealthy New Orleans ship owner to escape the gallows, and then falls fatefully in love with his owner’s beautiful sought-after daughter Marianne.
Deaton and Lassiter, romantic leads to sigh for, are electric in “Wanting You” and “Lover, Come Back to Me.” They continue to make beautiful music together after their recent performance in the lead roles of Lyric Stage’s award-winning The Golden Apple. The recording of that show, for sale in the lobby, was recently named one of last season’s top ten internationally by Opera Magazine.
The New Moon plot has plenty of room for romantic intrigue, revolutionary zeal, and comic mishaps nicely paced to give the characters plenty of singing time—putting the thrills and spills right up front, supported by the orchestra below and cheers and applause out front.
There’s always a sense of discovery in Lyric Stage productions, part of founding producer Steven Jones’ mission, but New Moon has a special freshness in its many young cast members. Ryan Appleby, a powerful and emotional baritone, in the role of Robert’s friend Philippe, delivers the rousing tango, “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” with virile urgency. A powerful man-moment rises when Appleby joins forces with Deaton and the male ensemble to deliver the rousing “Stouthearted Men.”
Kyle Coughlin adds light-hearted musical comedy flair to his role as a hapless ladies man in his role as Robert’s sidekick Alexander, a man who can’t say no to a pretty face. He even sings of himself as “Gorgeous Alexander.” Girlish Ellie Hertel, as Marianne’s maid Julie, is wispy thin with a voice as bright as a new penny. Coughlin and Hertel provide charm and laughs in their duets, especially the comic “Try Her Out for Dancing,” as Alexander’s wife and Julie vie for their guy through a sweetly silly song and dance contest.
Kasey Yeargain has fun with the role of tall, dark and awkward George Duval, the uptight ship captain who can’t muster the courage to propose to Marianne in a slapstick turn with Deaton in “An Interrupted Love Song.” James Williams is a properly jaunty and high-handed presence as the famous French detective Vicomte Ribaud bent on bringing Robert to justice.
When the New Moon at last sets sail in the second act, bound for European shores, all sorts of waves hit the motley crew and the feisty female cargo. Look out for pirates, revolutionaries, loves lost and reconciled—and even the vision of an island utopia. Get your tickets and board the New Moon right away; this high-hearted voyage of song and liberty has just two more performances, and you don’t want to be left on shore.