The Ocean City Sentinel

Pops puts on sweet show of 'The Chocolate Soldier'
Published in the August 13, 2009 issue of The Ocean City Sentinel, New Jersey

By Ed Wismer
Ocean City Sentinel critic

Ocean City — On Sunday, Aug. 9, the Ocean City Pops hosted Philly’s Concert Operetta Theater’s production of Oscar Straus’ “The Chocolate Soldier.” What a sweet and funny show it was.

This Straus - with one S - is not a typing error, and is not even related to the other tribe that waltzed around Vienna in the 19th century. Oscar Straus was born in Vienna in 1870 and died there in 1954. He fled Vienna in 1939 for obvious reasons and pursued his career in France, New York and Hollywood. He wrote heaps of operettas, but his best known and longest lasting is “The Chocolate Soldier.”

Producer Daniel Pantano adapted the 1908 libretto and skillfully avoided the George Bernard Shaw controversy entirely. The result was a delightful, if somewhat dated, typical Viennese operetta affair. Pantano’s adaptation brought the dialog to understandable and up to date without allowing it to become anachronistically hip.

Viennese operettas have many things in common. The plots are basically silly and unlikely, but at the same time charming. The Music Pier audience ate it up, primarily because the excellent cast and Pops orchestra worked so well together.

Pantano praised the orchestra highly for making the mostly unfamiliar music work with minimal rehearsal. We could have told him that great performances with minimal rehearsal time are the Pops’ forte. Guest conductor and musical director Jeremy Gill also lauded the orchestra’s ability to adapt to a situation so quickly.

The one familiar hit number in “The Chocolate Soldier” is “My Hero,” and it was sung beautifully by Jennifer Graf with a sweet lyric soprano voice. The entire cast had impressive voices, which were used to good advantage. The Concert Operetta Theater of Philadelphia seems to be loaded with vocal and acting talent. Neil Darling’s lyric baritone voice and good looks served him well as the ultimate hero. The same could be said of tenor Dana Wilson, even though he had an unsympathetic role. The three women were Graf, Mary Punshon and Betty Meister Prescod, who were marvelous together in a series of trios and when singing alone. Michael Tunney, as Colonel Popoff, all but stole the show. Even lesser roles were handled nicely.

In spite of having to compete with yet another horrendous thunderstorm, the Concert Operetta Theater of Philadelphia turned out a pleasing performance that was enthusiastically applauded.