Opera monstro

Oct 24, 2001 at 12:00 am

People come and go, ghosts roam the earth, zombies eat the living — but the one thing that never dies is a song in your heart. This Halloween season, Detroit offers up two grisly and delectable musical monsters from opposite sides of the spectral spectrum, guaranteed to satisfy, or at least take away, your entertainment appetite.

Great Lakes Lyric Opera presents The Canterville Ghost at the Southfield Centre for the Arts this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. British composer Paul Barker based this spooky opera on the Oscar Wilde tale of the same name, resulting in a wicked and witty musical drama that shares its songs with biting dialogue, both clever and droll, like the man who inspired it.

A curse has been placed on Canterville Castle. In debt and tormented by a hideous headless ghost, Lord Canterville is left with few options to rid himself of his horrific legacy — either to palm off the hunk of bricks on some unsuspecting Americans or fulfill a curing prophecy:

When a golden girl shall win prayer
from out the lips of sin
when the barren almond bears
and a little child gives away its tears
then shall all the house be still
and peace come to Canterville.

Originally written for piano and voice, the piece was rescored to include violins, cello and bass specifically for this performance by Barker, who flew in to oversee and direct his new additions. The score is an unnerving combination of a waterfall fairy tale mixed with bunches of jarringly harsh harmonies as if Brahms had cornered Debussy in a dark alley with ill intentions. Haunting vocal concordances wind through boughs of Wilde-ian wit over a bed of trilling violins, tiptoeing cellos and basses and a piano pounding down a twisting staircase.

You can’t help but fall in love with the troubled Canterville ghost, tortured by the American brats as he spirals to the end of his ghastly career. Bass-baritone Chris Grapentine’s portrayal of the spirit is charismatic and entrancing, giving you a taste of being in the presence of Wilde himself. And listen for coloratura soprano Sheila Gautreaux as the housekeeper Mrs. Umney; her delicate voice is a delightful framework for the piece.

There’s something for everyone in this wonderfully successful sensation combination that creeps through your spine as you giggle, a perfect family affair.

And for the not so sophisticated, there’s a darker, far more disturbing place known as Somewhere, U.S.A. Barbara and Johnny have planned a peaceful and soothing visit to their mother’s gravesite, unaware that something has gone very wrong and the dead are now walking the earth in search of flesh. When faced with horrific circumstances, they do what most warm-blooded Americans do: Break into song.

Welcome to Night of the Living Dead — The Musical, an Abreact Playhouse production performed at the Zeitgeist Theater for two weekends only. For those rabid fans of the George Romero classic film that put zombies on the map, it’s as if this story had been begging for music all along (what took so long?), and for those of you new to the plight of the zombie-plagued, melody-driven cannibalism will just seem right.

Although the actors-slash-tormented souls hit or miss their notes, the musical score for Living Dead, composed practically on the spot by Chad Kushuba, gives the deadly musical a Rocky Horror-meets-teen-angst-Goth-grunge-pumpkins passion, full of well-written, tortured-psyche melodies. With musical backing from Necro Mulligan, you’ll hear the unnerving “Scared Shitless,” the heart-wrenching “Moaning Duet” and “The Three Prong Song,” a lovely melancholic ballad (with a western touch) of lonely, longing screams nicely belted out by Misty Stankiewicz as Barbara.

Abreact co-founder Thomas Hoagland is responsible for Living Dead’s twitching direction and moaning script, so freshly written for the freshly dead that ominous overtones of present worldly events permeate the dialogue, creating very real, very disturbing connections, like these statements from respected zombie theorist Dr. Von Von:

“Our very lives will become a drama zat ve vatch vith displeasure from afar. And to drive us to acts so catastrophic as to make us vish ve vere never born. Ve have to be frightened to our very soul. You see, young reporter, ve were not meant to be, perhaps, zo long of zis vorld.”

All these zombies and ghosts haunting the stages of metro Detroit may not be alive anymore, but they sure have enough spirit left to steal the show, and maybe a few bites as well.

The Canterville Ghost
by Paul Barker
Great Lakes Lyric Opera
Oct. 26 and 27, 7:30 p.m.
Southfield Centre for the Arts
24350 Southfield Rd. (south of 10 Mile), Southfield
Tickets by phone, 248-354-9603. Information, 248-547-2027.

Night of the Living Dead — The Musical
by Thomas Hoagland and Chad Kushuba
Abreact Playhouse
Oct. 26 and 27, Nov. 2 and 3, 8 p.m.
Zeitgeist Theater
2661 Michigan Ave., Detroit
Free, but reservations required. Call the Abreact Playhouse at 313-965-4481 or the Zeitgeist Theater at 313-965-9192.

For show schedules, visit www.detroitareatheatre.com

Anita Schmaltz writes about performance and theater for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected]