Triumph of Love
Astoria Performing Arts Center
Astoria, NY - April 2008
Reviewed by John Kenrick
Under-appreciated treasures can be rediscovered in surprising places. This is especially true when it comes to theatre, where all it takes is a troupe with talent and guts to give material new life. Triumph of Love did poorly on Broadway, where a stellar cast could not overcome an ill-conceived production, but the show has been redeemed in a handsome and intoxicating staging by the Astoria Performing Arts Center. The fact that they are pulling off this little miracle in the auditorium of a Variety Girls & Boys Club makes their Triumph all the sweeter.
Over the last five years, I have seen artistic director Brian Swasey lead this company through a series of fresh and captivating productions, turning out first-class professional theatre on shoe-string budgets. This time around, Swasey has the daunting task of staging a romantic fantasy, always a tricky thing to do but especially when its also a musical. Triumph of Love is set in ancient Greece, but its trappings suggest 18th Century France and its language carries echoes of Shakespeare, Moliere, and a soupcon of Larry Hart and Cole Porter. Swasey handles this potentially bewildering mix with refreshing flair. He clearly understands that fantasy played with conviction and brio can become magical fun, and the results are a real treat.
The libretto by James Magruder involves a very complex story. In brief, Princess Leonide has fallen in love with Agis, a handsome young stranger. The princess dons a masculine disguise and befriends Agis, only to discover that he is the the rightful heir to her throne and is dedicated to killing her. In her attempts to win Agis's heart, Leonide enlists the help of his servants, romances the two philosophers who have served as his tutors, and eventually places her throne willingly in his hands. Composer Jeffrey Stock and lyricist Susan Birkenhead have energized this tomfoolery with a tuneful and unusually literate score, and it shines when performed by the APAC cast, one of the most solid singing ensembles I have ever seen. They also excel as farceurs, making all the unlikely twists of the plot disarmingly easy to accept.
Abby Baum plays Leonide with powerful pipes and comic flair, while the handsome Tripp Pettigrew is every inch a fantasy price, believably torn between philosophic principles and his first taste of love. Richard Rice Alan is delicious as the dictatorial tutor Hermocrates, and lovely Erika Amato dazzles as his spinster sister -- she is a musical knockout, stopping the show with her rendition of "Serenity." Ashley Spiegel delights as an energetic sidekick to the princess, Justin Birdsong wins laughs as the gardener, and Philip Deyesso is a bona fide comic discovery as Harlequin.
Jeffrey Campos provides flawless music direction. The handsome set by Michael P. Kramer keeps springing pleasant surprises, and Erik J. Michael's lighting design bathes everything in exactly the right fairy tale glow.
In short, APAC has come up with yet another winner, and Triumph of Love has the kind of New York production it always deserved. A triumph indeed!
This production ran through May 11, 2008.
Link to: APAC website