The Circus Princess Chicago Folks Operetta

June 8th - July 1st

"..delivers fine vocals and first-rate orchestral playing ..Art nouveau projections add to the period flavor,  and charming dancing girls and bumptious jugglers evoke the circus milieu" - Albert Williams, Chicago Reader 6/13/12

".. a thoroughgoing delight as presented by a hard-working cast of singers, dancers, instrumentalists and circus performers,  including a nifty aerialist...fine, lively playing of the 20-piece orchestra - John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune 6/11/12

Top 10 Must See Classical Music Events of the Summer - John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune 6/1/12

730pm  - June 8, 9, 22, 23 and 28
2pm - June 10, 16, 17, 30 and July 1

Tickets $30-40.  Box office 708-383-2742

6/8/12 - 7/1/12

Thu-Sat 730p, Sat-Sun 2p

The Circus Princess - Albert Williams, Chicago Reader 6/13/12"Fans of the "silver age" of Viennese operetta will savor this  frothy, nostalgic 1926 tale of romantic intrigue, set in Imperial  Russia. The libretto by Julius Brammer and Alfred Grünwald concerns  a nobleman (Gerald Frantzen) disguised as a circus performer, who  then disguises himself as a nobleman to woo a princess (Carla Janzen )--well, you get the picture. Emmerich Kálmán’s lush and lively  score is packed with waltzes, polkas, and even a can-can.   Bill Walters's staging for Chicago Folks Operetta delivers fine vocals and first-rate orchestral playing under the skilled  baton of Anthony Barrese, artistic director of Albuquerque's  Opera Southwest. Art nouveau projections add to the period flavor,  and charming dancing girls and bumptious jugglers evoke the circus milieu".


Rare Kalman operetta strong on tuneful schmaltz, weak on style - John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune 6/11/12.  "Chicago Folks Operetta is at it again, scouring dusty library shelves for operettas that once were the toast of Vienna and Berlin but have since fallen from the repertory, save for select opera houses in Russia and Western Europe.

That the intrepid troupe has attracted a loyal following since its founding in 2006 proves that these forgotten entertainments from the silver era of operetta exude more than enough tuneful charm and schmaltz to grab nostalgia-minded modern theatergoers,  despite their thin, formulaic plots.

This time around, Chicago Folks Operetta has dug very deep indeed to present the local premieres of two rare operettas, Emmerich Kalman's "The Circus Princess" ("Die Zirkusprinzessin") and Eduard Kunneke's even more obscure "The Cousin from Nowhere" ("Der Vetter aus dingsda"), playing in repertory this month in the intimate Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park.

The 1926 Kalman score, not heard anywhere in the U.S. for more than 85 years, is a thoroughgoing delight as presented by a hard-working cast of singers, dancers, instrumentalists and circus performers, including a nifty aerialist. Thank goodness for all those catchy waltzes,  tangos and fox trots, since the rest of this "Circus Princess" loses something in translation from Viennese frothiness to American brassiness.

At the opening last weekend, I wanted better and more stylish singing, more interestingly drawn characterizations and a less clunky staging  than Bill Walters provides, to match the fine, lively playing of the 20-piece orchestra under Anthony Barrese.  The company directors, Gerald Frantzen and Alison Kelly, really need to devote greater attention to vocal coaching to help the singers make it through their musically demanding roles with less audible strain and roughness.

Running time is another problem. The show lasts an unconscionable 3 ½ hours, with a gratuitous intermission inserted between the final two acts.   Surely some judicious trims could have been made without doing violence to the music.

The libretto and lyrics, given here in a new English translation by Frantzen and dramaturge Hersh Glagov, are the usual operetta mélange of mistaken  identities, low comedy and class-leveling romance. All this is set in a spartan playing area (set design by Ian Zywica), with Belle Epoque-era slide projections on side panels. Six dancers very prettily execute August Tye's big-top choreography.

There are plot loopholes wide enough to drive a circus wagon through. It's never made clear, for example, why a Russian prince (Frantzen, once again  casting himself as the romantic hero) would want to join a traveling circus as Mr. X, a mysterious, masked daredevil who awes his fans by walking a  tightrope while playing a violin.

Nor is the Grand Duke's (Bill McMurray, preening smugly as the villain of the piece) scheme to remove his rival from the picture so he can have the  rich, widowed Princess Feodora (Carla Janzen) for himself any too convincing. In the Neverland of Viennese operetta, love means never having to ask why.

Despite unflattering costuming (by Beth Laske-Miller), Janzen brings a warm, if at times squally, voice to the fickle Feodora, a role clearly modeled  after Franz Lehar's merry widow, Hanna Glawari. Too bad there's so little romantic chemistry between her and Frantzen's Mr. X.: As directed and played,  his character remains a handsome cipher, and Frantzen tends to stray from the pitch whenever he pushes his voice beyond its lyrical comfort zone.

The engaging, ukulele-playing Tyler Thompson and perky Kelly sing and hoof up a storm as the show's comic sweethearts, Toni and Mabel, although the  vocal lines are a stretch for Kelly's squeaky and slender soprano. Sean-Edward D. Hall is way over the top as the campy headwaiter, Pelikan, while  the other supporting roles are no more than adequate, save for Maggie Clennon Reberg's snobbish, Viennese restaurant proprietor.

The opening-night audience, which included Kalman's daughter, Yvonne Kalman, cheered the performers lustily".

From Chicago Folks Operetta - Presenting, in the first U.S. performance in over 85 years, Emmerich Kálmán's beloved operetta The Circus Princess. The show will be sung in English and will feature a new translation by Chicago Folks Operetta Artistic Director Gerald Frantzen and dramaturge Hersh Glagov.   Written in 1926 and coming on the heels of Kálmán's hit show Countess Maritza, The Circus Princess show proved to be an immediate success with its beguiling arias  Zwei Märchen augen (Two fairytale eyes) and Wo ist der himmel blau so wie in Wien? (Where are the skies bluer than Vienna?) and played for over 300 performances in Vienna.  In 1927 it appeared on Broadway with two other Kálmán shows.  


The story follows the mysterious Mr. X, a dashing circus performer, whose death defying circus act is the talk of all Russia.  Mr. X is hired by Prince Sergius Wladmir, a disgruntled suitor of Princess Fedora Palinska, to pose as a nobleman and marry her in a ruse designed to entice the princess into marrying a “lowly” circus performer.
But of course, like any good operetta that features mistaken identity and intrigue, "Mister X" is in fact a nobleman, the disinherited nephew of a deceased prince.   The music has all the classic hallmarks of Hungarian melodies and Viennese waltz’s that made Emmerich Kálmán one of the greatest operetta composers of all time.

The Circus Princess runs in rotation with The Cousin from Nowhere.

Tickets $30-40

Performance Schedule

Fri 6/8/12 at 730pm
Sat 6/9/12 at 730pm
Sun 6/10/12 at 2pm
Sat 6/16/12 at 2pm
Sun 6/17/12 at 2pm
Fri 6/22/12 at 730pm
Sat 6/23/12 at 730pm
Thu 6/28/12 at 730pm
Sat 6/30/12 at 2pm
Sun 7/1/12 at 2pm

Emmerich Kálmán

Director - Bill Walters and Conductor- Anthony Barrese

Sean-Edward Hall, Josh Douglas, Joseph Frantzen, Alicia Hurtado, Varris Holmes, Bill McMurray, Carla Janzen, Chelsea Morris, Daniel Hurtado, Alison Kelly, Malia Ropp, Andrea Amdahl-Taylor, Kira Dills-DeSurra, Michelle Perkowitz, Jeffrey Goodlove, Tyler Thompson, Maggie Clennon-Reberg, J. Keegan Siebken, Eli Branson, Gerald Frantzen, Amber Echols,Tashielle Gooley, Aislin McGhee Hassrick, Halima Mossi, Jane Sawyer, Leah Schoonmaker

Choreographer- August Tye Lighting Designer- Julian Pike Set Designer- Ian Zwyica Costume Designer- Beth Laske-Miller

Tags: Theater, Old Europe, 2012