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'Prince' a study in old-fashioned romance, fun

| Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010

They don't write them like this anymore.

Heck, they almost never perform them anymore.

Which is two of the three reasons you should go see Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's production of "The Student Prince" that runs through Sunday at the Benedum Center, Downtown.

Sigmund Romberg's "The Student Prince" is an old-fashioned American operetta, not unlike Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas but heavier on the comedy and lighter on the satire, with a big scoop of romance thrown in.

It's a classic part of American musical theater history that's seldom seen. It's also an enjoyable way to indulge in nostalgia for an earlier, more innocent era.

Set in the 1800s, it's about the impossible love that develops between a prince who is spending a semester of freedom at the university in Heidelberg and Kathie, a barmaid at the inn where students congregate.

Its chief virtues are its big, lyrical, melodic score that expresses big emotions in rich, lovely, near-operatic songs such as "Deep in My Heart," and James Brennan's direction and choreography that treats the lovers' emotions with seriousness while viewing with tongue-in-cheek amusement the stuffy, old-fashioned situations and attitudes that hinder their romance.

The third reason to see it is that Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera has burnished this golden oldie until it shines.

Robert Bingham's set designs � romantic misty mountain backdrop, overarching leafy trees, charming German inn and gilded palace hall � strike just the right notes.

Chad Johnson, who plays Prince Karl Franz, and Jacquelynne Fontaine, who plays the barmaid Kathie, are young, smart, attractive and vulnerable. They're also both trained opera singers who give full heartfelt voice to this lush and lovely music.

They're backed up by veteran Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera veterans including Gene Saraceni, Paul Palmer and Myrna Paris, as well as Tim Hartman and Patrick Richwood, a comic duo of valets who work overtime to wring every possible bit of schtick, slapstick and sight gag out of their roles.

Additional Information:

'The Student Prince'

Produced by: Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera

When: through Sunday Aug. 8. with performances at 8 p.m. through Friday, 1 p.m. Thursday (08/05), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $20.50-$70.50

Where: Benedum Center, Seventh Street at Penn Avenue, Downtown

Details: 412-456-6666 or online

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