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Design and vision triumph in The Count of Monte Cristo. Salt Lake’s glitterati turned out in force for Pioneer Theatre’s opening night. Turns out they were not overdressed (I certainly wasn’t!). As the American premiere of this new musical – already seen in Europe and Asia – it deserves everyone turning out in their finest because the company of Monte Cristo certainly gave theirs. The creators of the piece were on hand and stated they were thrilled to finally hear their creation sung in English, having assisted directly with Pioneer’s production team.
And what a night it was. The sheer stagecraft of Pioneer Theatre’s artisans has amazed me before, but this production surpasses everything I’d seen. Fascinating stage pictures on rotating stairs are not only a masterful achievement for the designer, Michael Schweikardt, but a distinguished credit to the craftspeople as well. Together with the director/choreographer, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, they pulled off an awesome creative vision.
The towering stairs create many environments with occasional assists from a ship mast, a hot air balloon and columns flying in from all directions. The live orchestra led by Michael Sebastian stirred us up with an excitingly executed overture and supported a beautiful score throughout, modulated perfectly to enhance the operatic numbers.
One would not think that one of the world’s best known revenge stories would lend itself to musical theatre, but really, Murphy and Wildhorn’s creation is more lyric opera. There are a total of 28 numbers in the two-hour show. Among the first to delight the opening night crowd was “A Story Told”, a jaunty tune sung by the villains of the piece, Mondego, Danglers, and Villefort, played, respectively, by Darren Ritchie, Brandon Contreras, and John Schiappa. The three plot our hero’s downfall with a gleeful toast. As one of the best prominent supporting characters, Schiappa’s work was clearly menacing, supported by his powerful, yet tonally pleasing vocals. Ritchie and Contreras each had their own moments with increasingly challenging material, their tenors delighting our ears.
Vocals were, of course, critical to telling this story and no one disappoints. As the lead, Matt Farcher as Edmund Dantes, the Count, seemed to soar ever higher and more powerfully with each successive song. His erstwhile love, Mercedes, was played by Brenda Carlson-Goodman with a strong, wide range at her disposal. But perhaps one of the greatest voices on that stage truly belonged to Dathan B. Williams as the Abbe Faria, the old prisoner who befriends and becomes a teacher to the hapless Edmund. Williams’ honeyed baritone is controlled and purposeful in everything it does, from the rhythmic “Lessons Learned” to the redemptive “When We Are Kings.”
The music by Frank Wildhorn (Composer of Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlett Pimpernel) is suited to a story that features daring escapes, swordplay, and our challenged lovers within its visual feast. I couldn’t help but think that this show can stand proudly alongside Les Miserable and Phantom of the Opera for its epic scope. The Count of Monte Cristo will be long remembered by patrons of the Pioneer Theatre who negotiated for years to bring this show to America and are justifiably proud of being the first. The box office has told us that this show is selling out at a record pace, so be sure to get tickets before it ends May 21st.
The Count of Monte Cristo, Pioneer Theatre Company
May 6 – 21, 2016
Prices vary upon day and section–ticket prices range $40-$62, plus $5 if day of show. Call or go on line for times and prices. 801-581-6961
On the University of Utah campus, 300 South 1400 East, Salt Lake City. Free parking off 4th South near the theatre.
7:30 pm Mon – Thurs, 8:00 pm Fri & Sat, 2:00 pm Saturday matinees
Rush tickets available; call the box office for details.