Review: ‘Les Uncomfortables’ returns triumphantly
I am going to have a hard time explaining to my mother why I was shaking with laughter while listening to Sarah Lawrence sing the Mad Scene from “Lucia di Lammamoor” 5 feet away from me.
Lyric Opera of the North’s production of “Les Uncomfortables,” the legendary Colder by the Lake original comic opera directed in this incarnation by Julie Ahasay, totally lived up to its reputation Thursday night at the Lincoln Park Middle School Auditorium.
The plot? Well, Daniel Greysolon Sieur duLhut (William Bastian) is going to “discover” the town that bears his name (although not necessarily the name he wanted it to bear). But before that takes place, a whole lot of stuff happens, focused more on the hysterical than the historical, including a love triangle that does not emerge until halfway through Act III.
There is not a “Hamilton”-like fidelity to history here. The show opens with Madame Frou Frou (Alice Pearce) selling everybody hats (“A hat can be your friend”), not because the creators discovered some interesting historical footnote, but because “chapeau” and “chateau” sound alike, and there is comedy (and costumes) to be mined from that similarity.
Composer Tyler Kaiser provides an impressive array of musical pastiches, focused primarily on opera, but venturing into other genres as well. The libretto by Jean Sramek and Margi Preus has been updated to keep up with local happenings since the show’s 2001 debut.
“Les Uncomfortables” references Little Peggy Marsh, Aerosmith, the Three Stooges, “Game of Thrones” and “Long-Haired Hair,” while throwing local cuisine, a mayoral checklist and operatic curses into the mix.
For my money, the biggest laughs come from the forays into parody of well-known opera arias. Sometimes the arias are sung straight, as when Malbec (Lawrence) launches into “O mio babbino caro,” and the comic deconstruction comes courtesy of the subtitles which creatively reimagine the lyrics. But there are also sometimes when the lyrics are rewritten to equal comic effect.
Otherwise it is the onslaught of local references that pretty much kept the audience chuckling from start to finish. This is a show that is willing to double-down on groaners and to turn the incidental music between the first two acts into a commercial interlude.
There are also dazzling special effects depicting the groups journey through the Great Lakes.
Bastian’s “Dan” provides a big bulls-eye for the proceedings. Providing a necessary post-modern perspective on history are John Pierce as Odin (“Oy, it will snow”) and Lyz Jaakola as Pocahannukas (“Thank you, Mr. Discovery Man”).
As Pinot Grigio, Calland Metts leads a spirited “So you want to be a Voyaguer,” while Jeffrey Madison’s Zinfandel cannot stop whining about his character’s demise. As Chardonnay playing Father Hennepin, Vicki Fingalson is an absolute scream.
Dirk Meyer, who has way more lines than most conductors usually have in an opera, conducts a 12-piece orchestra, which includes both the composer and kazoos.
Bonus points for this show were awarded for the canoe becoming unhinged and the statuesque “strike a pose” curtain call.
If you go
What: Lyric Opera of the North & Colder by the Lake present “Les Uncomfortables”
Where: Lincoln Park Middle School Auditorium
When: 7:30 tonight and 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $30, $40, or $50. Order online at www.loonopera.org or by calling (218) 464-0922