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STAGE REVIEW : FULLERTON LIGHT OPERA TRIES ‘STUDENT PRINCE’

Times Staff Writer

There’s a lot more life in Sigmund Romberg’s “The Student Prince” than the Fullerton Civic Light Opera Company manages to get at in its current production at Plummer Auditorium.

To be sure, Romberg’s and librettist Dorothy Donnelly’s bittersweet romance about a prince who falls in love with a barmaid on his holiday from the University of Heidelberg and must choose between love and duty, seems more than a little simplistic today. Still, there’s no denying an authentic catch-in-the throat at the plight of true love that doesn’t work out.

Jim Rule stages the current production at the Fullerton auditorium with straightforward sympathy, brisk pacing and reliance on a little too much broad comedy. Steven Craig offers pretty storybook sets and Jenny Wentworth provides attractive period costumes. Conductor Benton Minor and his 25-member orchestra capture an impressive degree the vigor and lilt of Romberg’s score.

Unfortunately, the singing ranges from the modest to the frankly inadequate. And, most grievously, the acting, even for a Broadway operetta, is stilted, unmotivated and lacking in credibility.

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Only Stan Throneberry, as a genial, robust Dr. Engel seems to have any sense of living in his part instead of merely reciting lines, although his singing “Golden Days” never varies a whit throughout the course of the story.

As Kathie, the heart-of-gold barmaid, Elaine Houssels looks lovely, vocally proves hard working, but fails to create a believable character. As Prince Karl Franz, a handsome Kit Wilson, mistakes giddiness and hysteria with youthful naivete and sings with hard, bright, constricted vocalism.

John Massey offers a broad caricature as Lutz. Nancy Sawyers is a very arch Grand Duchess Anastasia. Karen Schmitt is a vapid Princess Margaret. She and the nearly voiceless Carl Hansen (Captain Tarnitz) manage to miss every dramatic opportunity in their priceless duet “Just We Two.”

Thanks to the use of amplification, the students seem to be marching onto the stage from speakers on the ceiling. When they arrive, they neither look like military cadets nor sing the famous “Drinking Song” with much gusto. But gusto in plenty there is in the comic spy trio sung by Massey, Robert Hines (Hubert) and Dana McClary (Gretchen).

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Saturday’s performance was marred by several mishaps. One of the “drunken” students inadvertently pushed apart a bit of the bedroom set, and Massey actually destroyed the little writing table he was supposed merely to bump into. On the other hand, there was an almost magical moment when, during Kathie and the Prince’s “Deep in My Heart” duet, the back door of his room in the inn flew open, evoking a similar event in the first act of Wagner’s “Die Walkuere” which heralds the arrival of Spring.

Performances will continue Thursday through Sunday and May 28-31.


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