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'Triumph of Love' a musical delight at Red Branch Theatre

Stuffy philosophizing is no match for the power love in "The Triumph of Love," with Corey Jones and Kirsten Salp;ini, above, at the Red Branch Theatre in Columbia
Stuffy philosophizing is no match for the power love in "The Triumph of Love," with Corey Jones and Kirsten Salp;ini, above, at the Red Branch Theatre in Columbia (Submitted photo/For the Baltimore Sun Media Group)

"Triumph of Love" has a title that prompts you to hope for the best. As it turns out, the Red Branch Theatre Company has such a confident production of this musical that it definitely lives up to its title.

If long-time theatergoers in our area recognize that title, it's because the show has Baltimore roots. Based on Marivaux's 1732 French play, "Triumph of Love" was translated by James Magruder and done as a play at Center Stage in 1993. Then a musical adaptation with music by Jeffrey Stock, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead and a book by Magruder was done at Center Stage in 1997, and subsequently had a Broadway run in New York.

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It's nice to have the show back on a local stage again, because "Triumph of Love" is a delightful fusion of 18th-century theater and a more contemporary satirical sensibility. Love is eternal, of course, and so one of this lighthearted musical's lessons is that amorous challenges have not at heart changed all that much over the centuries.

True to its French source, the plot is a complicated series of romantic disguises and disclosures. One of the pleasures of this modern reworking of the material is that it's a streamlined treatment that's always easy to follow and enjoy.

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Most of the story takes place in a formal garden whose well-trimmed topiary reflects the manners of two aristocratic philosophers, Hermocrates and his sister, Hesione. They are so dedicated to intellectual ideals that the earthier manifestations of love have been banished from their daily lives.

This accounts for why their orphaned nephew, Agis, has had such a sheltered existence there. He's friendly and handsome, but those traits aren't put to much use in a household inhabited by his stern guardians; at least the servants are more playful.

Entering the scene, though in disguise, is Princess Leonide. For ridiculous reasons you should discover for yourself, Leonide and her servant, Corine, disguise themselves as young men in order to be accepted within a household that would not approve of Agis having female visitors.

Before all is said and done and sung in a show that has enough plot complications to fuel a good-natured soap opera, these characters will have ample opportunity to ask themselves about the nature of love.

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Leonide is such an important player in the romantic proceedings that the Red Branch production is blessed to have such a terrific performance by Kirsten Salpini in a role that amounts to playing both female and male characters within the disguise-laden plot.

Salpini has such a firm command of her lines and such secure comic timing that it's great fun watching her bounce around the stage. This self-assured performance extends to her singing, which is nicely showcased in numbers including "Anything."

She's joined by such a fine cast that it's not a major obstacle that some of the other actors occasionally sing lines that could be sweeter to the ear and perform physical bits of comedy that could be less self-consciously executed.

As the object of Leonide's affection, Agis is capably played by Danny Bertaux. Although he sometimes hesitates a little with his line readings, he delivers other lines with great comic flair. One suspects that with a bit of seasoning his performance will make him excel in this role. Likewise, his generally adequate singing needs a touch of refinement. When his singing fully succeeds, as in his duet with Salpini in "Teach Me Not to Love You," it's clear that the characters they play deserve to fall in love.

Others in the cast who all have their share of highlights are Peter Boyer as the suitably goofy Harlequin, Erin Branigan as Leonide's boisterous servant Corine, Cory Jones as the stuffy philosopher Hermocrates, Annette Mooney Wasno as the somber philosopher Hesione, and Gavin Shown as the brusque gardener Dimas.

The action flows smoothly thanks to the direction by Stephanie Lynn Williams and others on the production team, including musical direction by pianist and conductor Dustin Merrell. Although the only other musician, drummer Evander McLean, provides accompaniment in such a sporadic fashion that you wonder whether drums are needed at all here, it's a minor reservation within a production that gives you plenty of reason to love it.

"Triumph of Love" runs through Oct. 18 at Red Branch Theatre Company, 9130-I Red Branch Road in Columbia. Tickets are $18- $22. Call 410-997-9352 or go to http://www.redbranchtheatrecompany.com.

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