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After the Ball

Presented by and at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22 St., NYC, Dec. 16-Jan. 30.

Here's a rarity: Noël Coward's musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan," which disappeared after a modest London run in 1954. This is Coward in operetta mode, although it's several notches below "Bitter Sweet," his masterpiece in that genre.

Still, there are lovely numbers, such as "Sweet Day" and the jaunty "Why Is It the Woman Who Pays?" and "London at Night, " performed here in just the right style.

A prerecorded orchestral intro raised hopes that a full orchestra track might be used throughout, but no, piano it was. Luckily, Mark Hartman's playing was stylish and assured.

Tony Walton's shoestring-budget design (lit by Brian Nason) was attractive, and his direction was reflective of his longtime familiarity with the work. Lisa Shriver provided the efficient choreography.

It's almost impossible to find performers adept at both the histrionic demands of Wilde and the vocal stylization of Coward, and this cast was stronger in the latter. Kathleen Widdoes as a meddlesome duchess gave the most assured performance, but Kristin Huxhold sang sweetly as Lady Windermere, who mistakenly thinks that her husband (Paul Carlin) is having an affair with the notorious Mrs. Erlynne (Mary Illes, an almost-namesake for the part's creator, operetta star Mary Ellis). Greg Mills did well with his chantey and, later, "Faraway Land."

Other parts were capably handled by Collette Simmons, Josh Grisetti, Drew Eshelman, Elizabeth Inghram, and David Staller.

This is not quite top-drawer Coward, nor is the combination of Coward and Wilde the divine combination you'd expect, but his score is never less than graceful and it's made all the more interesting by its infrequent performance.

Coward would probably be astonished to learn that his piece was enjoying a regular run. Kudos to Walton and Irish Rep directors Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O'Reilly for pulling it off.

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