We had a lot of fun on Saturday’s (Feb. 11) episode of WHIV (102.3 FM), in which we welcomed a wide range of guests:
Will Coviello, arts and entertainment editor for Gambit, as Krewe du Vieux prepared to roll in the Marigny and French Quarter that night. (Coviello also is a member of the sub-krewe Spermes).
Leslie Castay, who played The Beggar Woman in the New Orleans Opera Association’s staging of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” and writer John Pope, who offered his take on the blurred lines between opera and musical theater for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.
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(Photo by Tom Grosscup)
WHAT: New Orleans Opera Association presents the Stephen Sondheim classic inspired by the “penny dreadfuls” of Victorian London
WHEN: Fri. (Feb. 10), 8 p.m.; Sun. (Feb. 12), 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts
MORE INFO: Visit NOOA website
To say that speaking with Leslie Castay is in familiar territory is an understatement. She’s sitting in the office of B. Michael Howard, the Tulane musical theater chair and former leader of the Summer Lyric Theatre, which staged Stephen Sondheim’s classic “Sweeney Todd,” just a few steps downstairs in the Lupin Theater.
Castay, who’s working with Howard as she gets her master’s in musical theater, played the role of Mrs. Lovett in that 2016 production, and, in what is more than a happy coincidence, is back in the same production but in a different role when the New Orleans Opera Association presents the show on Friday night (Feb. 10) and Sunday afternoon (Feb. 12) at the Mahalia Jackson Theater in Armstrong Park. In this production, Castay takes on the role of the Beggar Woman, who (spoiler alert!) is just as familiar with “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” as the other woman, so to speak.
(You might remember Leslie Castay from her PopSmart NOLA contribution about performing in “The Lion in Winter.”)
As John Pope notes in NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, “Sweeney Todd” blurs the lines between musical theater and traditional opera, but definitely will enjoy a grander stage and with a more fleshed-out stage production. In this little “PopSmart NOLA” podcast treat (in advance of Saturday’s show on WHIV, 102.3 FM, 3 p.m.-4 p.m.), Castay discusses why she loves the production and how those lines blur.
“Sweeney Todd” is inspired by the “penny dreadfuls” of Victorian London; Sondheim’s score fueled eight Tony Awards in 1979 in telling a darkly funny and macabre tale of murder and revenge.
This particular production features a family reunion of sorts; the husband-and-wife team of New Orleans native Greer Grimsley (Sweeney Todd) and Luretta Bybee (Mrs. Lovett) join forces for this production after having performed in the show separately over the years.
Music lovers might have missed out on OperaCréole’s performance at the Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday (Sept. 25) for the “Concert Across America,” co-sponsored with Ashé Cultural Arts Center, and part of a nationwide musical response to gun violence at more than 200 venues.
OperaCréole is a beautiful group to witness as it covers classical music across the African Diaspora, so it’s sometimes puzzling to see what at least feels like a lack of greater popularity in the New Orleans area. (I first saw, and wrote about, them at the 2015 New Orleans Jazz Fest, and with better photos.) But Sunday was a delight, if a somber one, given the tone of the evening as leader Givonna Joseph rooted the music in our nation’s long history with gun violence — stretching all the way back to the beginnings of slavery.
The performance was broken down into four major themes:“Mourning Our Ancestors: Africa to Reconstruction,” “Freedom Fighters,” “For Our Children” and“Change for the Future.” Working in collaboration with the Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church’s Chanel Choir, OperaCréole provided a space for each of its members to shine. OperaCréole opened with a beautiful team effort on “Great Creator” from Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s long-lost work, “Thelma” (rediscovered in 2012, a century after its debut), and then deftly blended “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” with the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”
Tenor Prentiss Mouton delivered a stirring version of Hall Johnson’s “Po’ Moner Got a Home At Last” (with accompaniment by pianist Marcus St. Julien). Bass-baritone Ivan Griffin dug deep on his take on Glenn Burleigh’s traditional “Go Down Moses.” Soprano Kenya Lawrence Jackson wished a sweet “Prayer” from Langston Hughes by way of Ricky Ian Gordon. Mezzo-soprano Aria Mason (Joseph’s daughter) had to literally compose herself for her personal tribute to a former student, George Carter III, a local third-grader, who later became a victim a gun violence as a teen, with her “Being Good” from “Hallelujah, Baby!”
Kathleen Halm paid lovely tribute to Verdi’s “Requiem” (1st movement) and then joined OperaCréole on Moses Hogan’s “Walk Together Children.” Everyone chimed in on the finale, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” with members hoisting signs marking the cities that have experienced the most recent tragedies of gun violence. While the program encouraged the audience to contact legislators and community advocates to speak out against gun violence, the song was an apt coda on peace: Let it begin with me.