Audiences invited to 'laugh out loud' at 'Too Many Sopranos'
Contact: Christina Chapple
Click on thumbnail for high resolution photo(1) (2) (3)
(1) STAGING “TOO MANY SOPRANOS” -- Southeastern Louisiana University Opera/Music Theatre Workshop guest director Brandt Blocker of New Orleans, right, choreographs some stage moves for “Too Many Sopranos” cast members, from left, Jessica Davis Bryan of Ponchatoula, Christina Babin of Prairieville and Cassie Arnold of Ponchatoula. The comedic opera is scheduled for March 21-24, 7:30 p.m., at the Pottle Music Building Auditorium.
(2) COMIC OPERA AT SOUTHEASTERN -- Members of the cast of “Too Many Sopranos” rehearse on the stage of Southeastern Louisiana University’s Pottle Music Building Auditorium, where the comic opera will be performed March 21-24. From left, are Jessica Davis Bryan, Ponchatoula; Sarah Kennemer, Mandeville; Emily Stokes, Covington; Scott McDonough, Slidell; Kay Schepker, Hammond; and Brian Martinez Jr., Montz.
(3) Chris Griffin of Baton Rouge, left, plays the part of a bass singer sent to Hell for womanizing and Brian Martinez Jr. of Montz is St. Gabrielle in the comic opera “Too Many Sopranos,” scheduled March 21-24 at Southeastern Louisiana University’s Pottle Music Building Auditorium.
HAMMOND – Feel free to laugh out loud.
That’s the blanket invitation that guest director Brandt Blocker and producer Chuck Effler are extending to audiences for the Southeastern Louisiana University Opera/Music Theatre Workshop’s production of “Too Many Sopranos.”
The comedic opera, scheduled for March 21-24, 7:30 p.m., at the Pottle Music Building Auditorium, is about four divas who have to audition their way into heaven.
“It’s a very funny piece,” said Blocker, who has had a successful career as a music and stage director, actor, singer and producer in New Orleans. “Who can’t laugh at pratfalls on stage and the fact that St. Gabriel and St. Peter are waiting for four divas to show up in heaven to audition for a spot? That’s universally entertaining.
“You can come to this opera and laugh out loud and have a good time,” he said. “You don’t have to let the term ‘opera’ scare you away. At the same time, musically it’s so difficult that we ‘musical nerds,’ who really get into a score, can have something to appreciate. It’s something for everybody to really enjoy.”
A native New Orleanian with a long list of hits and awards to his credit from producing and directing shows at New Orleans’ Le Petit Theatre and other venues, Blocker is relishing the opportunity to bring his musical theater experience to staging an opera. He laughs about how Effler, a long-time musical colleague, recruited him as the director for “Too Many Sopranos.”
“Chuck and some Southeastern strings players performed at my wedding,” he recounted. “I came by while they were practicing at the church. Chuck said, ‘Hey, I think I have something for you. We’re doing an opera at Southeastern that really requires some musical theater staging. I’d like to have you come up [and direct it].’
“I said ‘Great!,’” Blocker laughed. “I picked up my cell phone and called my bride, who was is in the middle of putting on the veil, getting on the makeup. She said, ‘I really don’t want to talk about this right now!’”
Blocker is enthusiastic about everything he has encountered at Southeastern – from the selection of the show, to the talents of the Southeastern cast, to the charms of the venerable Pottle Music Building Auditorium.
He said “Too Many Sopranos” was a great choice for the Southeastern Opera/Music Theatre Workshop because it is audience-friendly, but musically challenging.
“Opera doesn’t not have to be ‘Wagnerian,’” he said. “That’s why I was excited to tackle this piece. My love for the operatic art form and the opportunity to work with Chuck would have gotten me here, but the fact that this show gives me an opportunity to ham it up, camp it up and have a little fun with it really made it very attractive.”
The audience, Blocker said, “will never know how difficult the music is. They’ll just laugh and have a great time – but I’m really impressed with the cast. They have been amazing.”
“It’s beautiful music and really very funny,” Effler agreed. “It doesn’t sound hard, but, believe me, it’s tough as nails for these kids. They’re working really hard.”
Starring as the divas are Southeastern voice students Christina Babin of Prairieville and Sarah Kennemer of Mandeville as “Madame Pompous,” Jessica Davis Bryan of Ponchatoula as “Miss Titmouse,” and Cassie Arnold of Ponchatoula and Emily Stokes of Covington as “Just Jeanette.” Southeastern voice faculty member Kay Schepker of Hammond rounds out the temperamental quartet as “Dame Doleful.”
Scott McDonough of Slidell and Brian Martinez Jr. of Montz will sing the roles of St. Peter and St. Gabriel, respectively. Colby McCurdy of Slidell is cast as the sinfully boring opera director “Orson,” while Brandon Wear of Slidell is the equally mind-numbing librettist “Nelson Deadly.” Chris Griffin of Baton Rouge is an unnamed bass in hell for womanizing, and Blair Abene of Hammond has the role of “Sandman.”
To add to the level of difficulty for the cast, the singers had no recording of the opera to which they could refer while learning the music. “They had to learn it the good old fashion way – by plunking it out on a keyboard and learning it pitch by pitch,” Blocker said.
With the exception of a touring production of “Hansel and Gretel” that he recently staged for the New Orleans Opera’s children’s program, Blocker said he has not been involved with opera since his student days at Loyola University, when he appeared in “Die Fledermaus.”
“It’s nice to be able to return to the art form but with a little more musical theater spin on it,” he said. He’s enjoyed imparting musical theater techniques to students more familiar with singing standing still.
“In opera you have to make the voice the number one priority,” he said, His challenge, he said, has been to give the opera students “a real sense of how to be on stage, of how it’s one thing to be an incredible singer, but quite another to be able to do a little movement while singing that aria. When that’s new to you, it can be a little bit of a task, but they’ve jumped right into it.”
Blocker said he has also enjoyed the “educational partnership” he has found among the music faculty and students at Southeastern. “The university has done an amazing job within the past 10-15 years of really placing itself on the map as a serious department to study music, instrumentally and vocally,” Blocker said. “Many of the musicians that I often have in orchestra pits in New Orleans have gotten their degrees here at Southeastern. That tells you the university is doing an incredible job.”
And, as for Pottle Auditorium, “I love it!” he said. “You have this tremendous art deco theater, large enough, but intimate. How many buildings can pull off turquoise and do it so well? Clearly it’s period, but there enough space for an orchestra, tremendous fly space, it’s outfitted well. What a great facility!”
Blocker hopes audiences will share his enthusiasm for “Too Many Sopranos” in particular and for opera in general
“The average age for an audience at the Metropolitan Opera these days is 60 and that is a trend you’re finding nationally, both within the educational arena and for professional performances,” Blocker said. “We’ve got to do something to ensure that our art form is going to remain – not just remain but be enjoyed and well-attended.”
General admission tickets, available at the door, are $14, adults; and $10, senior citizens, Southeastern faculty, staff, and alumni, and non-Southeastern students. Southeastern students are admitted free with their university I.D.
For more information contact Chuck Effler at firstname.lastname@example.org or (985) 549-2249.