How do you solve a problem like Maria? As in Callas, that is. Tyne Daly with the guidance of director Stephen Wadsworth whose resume includes the staging of many an opera have done a formidable job in attempting to recreate the mammoth sized legendary life of “La Divina” in Terrance McNally’s take on Maria Callas in “Master Class” now at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre under the auspices of the Manhattan Theatre Club.
On a set by Thomas Lynch which beautifully replicates a rehearsal studio with exposed lighting and wooden acoustical walls that magically transform into an opera house when needed for Ms. Callas’ forays into the past, the retired from singing, larger than life star both on stage and off has three “victims” perform under her entitled scrutiny. She isn’t easy on them and lives up to her regal reputation as the singer without any rivals.
There are actually three stars on stage: Maria Callas, Tyne Daly and Victor Borge. Let me explain. The wonderful actress Tyne Daly whose incredible legs go unseen here certainly has “The Look” thanks to make-up, wig and costume. She certainly has the star quality. And the attitude. She does not try to imitate but tries to convey the inner workings that result in her seeming to be Maria Callas. All very good.
Then there is that incandescent smile of Ms. Daly that sneaks in every so often to remind us that she is just pretending to be Callas. A smile that lights up the theatre but takes us back to Mama Rose. Then there is her unmistakable voice that seeps through also. A voice that has made her the star that she is. Like Callas.
Then there is her impeccable comic timing. Timing that brought to my mind, at least, Victor Borge in his extremely amusing classical musical skits. I suppose it is this mutual brilliance in making us laugh that brought him to mind. And once there, I couldn’t separate him from Ms. Daly nor Ms. Callas.
The onstage pianist Emmanuel Weinstock (a subtle and delightful Jeremy Cohen) plays his role and the Steinway to perfection. Clinton Brandhagen as the Stagehand who has forgotten La Divina’s cushion and is late with her foot stool has just the right stagehand arrogance and aloofness to set the eyes of Callas/Daly glaring.
Her “victims” are well cast. As the nervous Sophie De Palma, Alexandra Silber deals bravely while trying to start an aria from La Sonnambula. The tenor Anthony Candolino, Garrett Sorenson, fares much better with his aria from Tosca. But it is the feisty Sharon Graham (an adrenalin driven Sierra Boggess with pipes to match) who takes on La Divina with a vengeance with her soaring Lady Macbeth and almost succeeds in winning.
Within the context of the Master Class, Callas orates on the necessity of having or creating “A Look”, élan, presence, details and, of course, an incomparable voice. Weaving in her life story with her first husband and then with the coarse Ari Onassis where she has to portray both parties does not especially work as well as when she is sharing with her “victims” and entertaining her audience.
Extended through September 4th www.manhattantheatreclub.com Photo: James White
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