Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti and Bolcom's Casino Paradise, the two one-acts offered by the In Series Friday (perfs are done now), both operate in that fertile "American operetta" terrain. To lovers of musical theatre in all its forms, there's something so appealing about this combination--the musical is freed from the stultifying limitations of the song n' book format while the opera gets to revel in a degree of literacy and playfulness with language that it rarely achieves. It's hard to compare these works with the often leaden libretto of something like AmTrag* (New York has changed you? Otay...) or the dreadfully opaque Dr. Atomic** and wonder if the latter pieces weren't translated into English from some other language.
Tahiti's heart is a drama of marital dissolution that succeeds on an insightful libretto and Bernstein's wonderful score. There's a lot of anti-suburban snark around that emotional core that one hopes sounded fresher and less mean-spirited back in the day, but this is done cleverly and with such a nice grasp of the styles it riffs that you can't hate it. The sung dialogue scenes and the big centerpiece number are both particularly memorable. One can imagine more vocal beauty being brought to bear on the score, but the sensitive readings turned in by leads Grace Gori and Will Heim were more than sufficient to make the piece successful. Here's that big number from a BBC production:
The scrappy delights of Casino, which cribs styles and stock characters from wherever they can be found in the service of a nutty satire about a tycoon and seaside town that falls for his ill-fated Casino, were well served here in a tight, inventive staging. Special shout-outs to Scott Sedar's charismatic tycoon and the finest vocalism of the night from Jase Parker (they tycoon's son) and Brendan Sliger (as a townsperson).
*Which I generally liked a lot and wish they would bring back, despite that knock.
**Which I do not forgive.