Skylark Opera double dips with festival

Ozzie (Jon Hegge), Gabey (Dieter Bierbrauer) and Chip (Paul Coate) from <i>On the Town</i>.

Ozzie (Jon Hegge), Gabey (Dieter Bierbrauer) and Chip (Paul Coate) from On the Town.

The Skylark Opera has two decidedly different works on tap for its 2011 festival. On one end is Leonard Bernstein's On the Town, packed full of jazzy numbers, including "Lonely Town" and "New York, New York." On the other is The Vagabond King, a romantic operetta full of daring do and swordplay. The shows open in rep this weekend at the E.M. Pearson Theatre at Concordia University in St. Paul.

"On the Town is a piece we have wanted to do for a long time," says Skylark Artistic Director Steve Stucki. "It uses different elements of blues and jazz with classical underpinnings. It's very sophisticated music, and that's what drew me to the piece."

The Vagabond King is quite different -- an operetta from the 1920s about a French royal who has 24 hours to defeat the evil Duke of Burgundy, among other tasks. The Rudolf Friml work "is a piece in the genre that appeals to our core audience. We like to do one operetta a year to satisfy our core audience," Stucki says.

[jump] Apart from the 24-hour time frame, neither piece has much in common as far as subject matter goes, or musical style. "While they are both Americans, Bernstein has such a unique voice. Friml is more romantic, with soaring melodies," he adds.

The Vagabond King has plenty of elements of classical theater, with all its sword play and political intrigue, that sets it apart from many works of the genre, even "with its romantic view and operatic style," Stucki says.

Stucki hopes that the Bernstein piece will appeal to a broad range of music and theater buffs. "It's not a piece that is done very often. I'm not sure the last time it was done professionally in the Twin Cities," he says.

As Skylark doesn't have the same resources as the original production, some elements have been scaled back, including the dancing. "We have an excellent choreographer and we've incorporated the dancing on a smaller scale," he says.

The cast for The Vagabond King includes Jeffrey Madison, Vicki Fingalson, Amanda Jenkins, and Jake Endres, while On the Town features Dieter Bierbrauer, Jon Hegge, Sarah Gibson, Paul Coate, Jennifer Eckes, and Sarah Lawrence.

In the end, Stucki sees the two pieces complementing each other. "If you see both of them, there is a nice variety of music and theater in both of them," he says.