On Feb. 21, Lyric Theatre@Illinois offered “Carnaval” in celebration of Mardi Gras, (Fat Tuesday), the last party before the penitential season of Lent.
This year’s producer and conductor, Julie Jordan Gunn, and stage director, Dawn Harris, came up with a Latin American musical celebration of the music of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking peoples.
The advertisement of the event invited folks to show up early, in costume perhaps, and dance to music performed on Stage 5 of the Krannert center lobby.
When I arrived shortly after 7 p.m., a Latin jazz band was offering a lively beat to large groups of dancers, and the lobby was about filled up to capacity.
A little later, members of the Marching Illini led the audience into Foellinger Great Hall, where a jazz band on stage was already playing.
A festive opening indeed!
On the crowded printed program, I counted 36 numbers.
A few arias from operas were sung, more numbers from Zarzuelas (Spanish operettas), very much more numbers from musicals, as well as pop favorites.
Throughout the evening, there were exciting production numbers, with much lovely dancing, for which we can thank stage director Harris and choreographer Sara Dolins.
The conductors of the on-stage orchestra were Julie Jordan Gunn, Nicholas Pothier and Michael Tilley.
The director of the on-stage Latin jazz ensemble was Tito Carillo, and the director of the steel drum ensemble was Richard Flores.
For the total musical/dramatic effect of this celebration, we thank the many musicians and dancers who took part, as well as the children of the Central Illinois Children’s Chorus, Andrea Solya, director, and let us not forget the performers in the Krannert lobby before the show.
The dizzying array of offerings was sometimes overwhelming.
The best way to enjoy the evening, I decided, was to let the singing and the spectacle roll over one like a great wave.
There was little in the program to explain where the music was from, and there were no supertitles, and few titles in the program were translated.
The lights in the FGH were lowered so that one could hardly read the program’s listing, and the way the singers are listed on a different page from the music they sang is just this side maddening.
Near the beginning, we were offered familiar pleasures, in well-sung and -danced numbers from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”
I was heartened to hear lovely music sung vibrantly by Jamille Lea from Daniel Catán’s opera “Florencia en el Amazonas.”
This work had been done here at Illinois and will be done next season at the Met.
It was fun to hear old favorites like Augustin Lara’s “Granada” sung lustily by Hector Camacho Salazar, Ricardo Guerrero and Esteban Valentin-Martinez.
These three singers clearly had watched the “Three Tenors” and knew the power of the elbow in achieving fame.
Another old favorite, Quirino Mendoza’s “Cielito Lindo” was touchingly sung by Annemarie Eaton, Viveca Richards and Julia Scannell.
I remember hearing before “Yo soy Maria,” from Astor Piazzolla’s “Maria de Buenos Aires.”
Here at this concert, it was convincingly sung by Alejandra Sandoval-Montanez and danced by the superb duo Alex Tecza and Kato Lindholm.
The biggest laughs of the evening went to Carly Wingfield’s singing of Stephen Sondheim’s “Boy from …,” a send up of “The Girl from Ipanema.”
The words of “I am I, Don Quixote” from Mitch Leigh’s “Man of La Mancha” were loud and clear as sung by Shayne Piles and Eldon Warner.
Near the end of the show, the singing of Manuel de Falla’s “Seven Popular Spanish Songs” was very touching. The singers were Stephen Burdsall, Paige Calvert, Maurice Fields, Matt Hauser, Emily Lee, Kennedy Ortmeier and Aidan Singh.
At the end of the program, we heard numbers from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights,” a wildly successful musical about the Dominican colony in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood.
Ramman Takhsh sang a hilarious version of “Quizás, quizás, quizás,” and the final riotous production number was “Carnaval del Barrio” from “In the Heights.”
In the best traditions of the band on the Titanic, as the last members of the audience trickled out, the Latin jazz band kept playing on.