Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ari-Maria—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

Living the “Greek” Life

The new musical about Maria Callas and Ari Onassis is written by Donnie, music by Jonathan Quesenberry and directed by Don Horn.  It is playing through May 26th at The Sanctuary at 1785 NE Sandy Blvd.  For further information, contact them at or or 503-239-5919.

In order to live Life/Love to the fullest, you must embrace a little madness.  Thoughts from Zorba, the Greek.  And so the turbulent relationship of Maria and Ari begins and ends.  Their union was fostered by earth and fire, and oil and water.  It is a tale of obsession, possession, abuse, music, adoration and degradation.  It is a love story fit for a Greek tragedy of operatic heights and depths.  It is a yarn of the secretive lives of the filthy rich, as only they could have lived it, with passion, baring their naked souls to one another.

The play covers a number of years of their lives, between 1957 and 1968 and takes place in Greece, England, Italy, France, and onboard his yacht, Christina.  They were both married to other people when they first met on his boat.  He had a wife, Tina and two children.  She had a husband, Giovanni (Gary Wayne Cash).  Ari (Bruce Blanchard) was used to getting whatever he wanted, and he desired the great opera star, Maria Callas (Amy Jo Halliday).

But she had an equal strong personality, which probably compelled and repelled him at the same time.  She had a career, a marriage and a following, herself and, although attracted to Ari, was not about to be upstaged by him.  In time, they both divorced, but Ari always had a string of women at his beck and call.  She has a premature child by him, which died, and he was repulsed by this, only acknowledging his son and daughter by his former wife.

Their attempt to marry was thwarted by the fact that she couldn’t produce a birth certificate.  Also his relationship with Princess Lee Radizwell (Erin Oleson), Jackie Kennedy’s (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit) sister, was heating up.  He loved the fact he was sleeping with royalty.  Then her husband, the President, was assassinated and he offered her comfort.  Again, invading royalty in the guise of Camelot.  Of course, they eventually marry.  But he and Maria continued their on-again, off-again relationship until their deaths.

What adds greatly in encompassing this monumental story is the music/songs (Donnie/Quesenberry), which track their feelings; the simple, but effective, fluid set/lighting (Donald Horn/Jeff Woods); and the clever use of a Narrator (Michelle Maida), to fill-in much of their actual history and times.

And the trilling by Halliday (Callas) is alone, worth the show.  Let me put it this way, if Singing was a Nation, Ms. Halliday would be its Queen!  The anguish and joy of her emotions are not only translated in her songs, especially, Why Do I Love You?, But A Woman and the humorous, A Lovely Acquaintance (w/Erin), but embodied in her face and gestures, as well.  And, not being a lover of opera myself, I was, nevertheless, transformed by her renditions of the arias, O mio babbina caro from Gianni Schicchi and Casa Diva from Norma.  Sublime!

Her equal in acting and singing was Mr. Blanchard (Onassis).  Although too good-looking for the actual Ari he, nonetheless, was perfect in portraying the enormous ego, rage and passion of this complicated man.  He also performed his songs with much of the same style as the Broadway stars of the 50’s (John Raitt, Gordon MacRae, Howard Keel, et. al.) by planting himself in a power position onstage when completing his number.

Perhaps the most touching ballad was by Mr. Cash (Giovanni) in What Am I.  It was moving and could bring one to tears.  He, too, was convincing in showing us the frustration and grief in this person.  In what would normally be a thankless role in a play, the Narrator, Ms. Maida, was exceptional in her storytelling abilities, in keeping the audience engaged in this tale.

Ms. Oleson (Lee) was in good voice and form, too, especially in the amusing, a Lovely Acquaintance, as well as Ms. Kelly-Pettit in her role as Jackie.  And, not to be overlooked, Gabriel Mikalson gave a stirring rendition of Tou Gamou, the traditional Greek wedding song.  In fact, all the performers were good singers, as well as some of them playing multiple roles.

Mr. Horn’s direction, design and writing (aka, Donnie) was, as always, spot on.  He must have a special rapport with his cast, as he consistently gets quality performances out of them.  The music and pianist, Mr. Quesenberry, is really quite remarkable.  Collaboration is not often an easy merge with another artist but he and Mr. Horn seem in perfect sync.  And Jami Chatalas Blanchard’s (a fine performer in her own right) costumes seem perfectly in tow with the 50’s & 60’s.

One should not miss the return of their excellent Avenue Q for three weekends in June.  And their next season looks exciting, including the popular musical-drama, Kiss of the Spider Woman (w/ Margie Boule`); another Wendy Westerwelle comedy, Recovering From Myself, performed and written by this super, funny lady; and a musical about the late, Native American/Oregonian, Jim Pepper; et. al.

I recommend this show.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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