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‘Tales of Hoffman’ a musical masterpiece
Stories of three lost loves told to powerful effect in Skylight production


By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

March 22, 2018


Susan Wiedmeyer (Antonia) and John Kaneklides (Hoffmann) in Skylight Music Theatre’s production of “The Tales of Hoffmann” in association with the Milwaukee Opera Theatre at the Cabot Theatre stage.
Mark Frohna

MILWAUKEE - Under the masterful touch of Skylight Music Theatre director Jill Anna Ponasik and a score of creative musical artists and talented artisans, “The Tales of Hoffmann” opens with a sassy series of announcements sung by Jean Broekhuizen.

Already we can sense that a musical masterpiece is in store with a sumptuous set design (Lisa Anne Schlenker), breathtaking costumes (Sonya Berlovitz) and clever choreography (James Zager). As described by the composer himself, E.T.A. Hoffmann calls it, “A mix of music, movement and mayhem.” Sadly, his death preceded its performance.

This is a series of tales about unrequited or lost loves and how often these painful experiences give birth to art. (Think of how many songs recount this incomparable ache.) The poet Hoffmann is experiencing writer’s block and as suggested by his muse, Nicklausse, sassily portrayed by Diane Lane, he turns to three of his past amorous ordeals to afford inspiration.

The play with fantastic vocals is structured into three separate acts with an intermission between each dire heartbreaker.

First, there’s Olympia, the beautiful mechanical doll, whom the clever inventor Spalanzani has crafted. Hoffman falls hard for her before he discovers that she’s not real. Cecilia Davis aces the role. Her flexible, soaring voice coupled with her robotic physicality and dart-like staccato musical delivery is mesmerizing.

Hoffman’s second disaster comes in the form of a sickly young woman with an overprotective father. The beautiful doomed Antonia (Susan Wiedmeyer) dies before she is able to elope with Hoffman, but not before she delivers a gorgeous duet with her dead mother (Carol Greif) whom she soon joins.

The third unconsummated amorous calamity involves the attractive sorceress Giulietta, a self-centered, avaricious woman. The attractive Ariana Douglas looks the part and has a glorious voice to match.

Amid a throng of stars, John Kaneklides, with his luscious tenor and forlorn appearance, resurrects Hoffmann with his magnetic power and beautiful, rich tones.

The minimal but all-encompassing orchestration (two pianos, a harp and a plethora of percussive instruments) is displayed on stage, very much in synch with all the action and the music. Kerry Bieneman, Rebecca Royce, Josh Robinson and Michael “Ding” Lorenz deliver here.

Some clever touches of humor were provided by Brett Sweeney in his cameo roles.

Don’t miss this incomparable display of talent and ingenuity. The delicate “Barcarolle,” an unforgettable melody, is sensitively rendered by the whole ensemble. Thanks to Jacques Offenbach, the composer who completed Hoffmann’s uncompleted masterpiece.


AT A GLANCE
“Tales of Hoffmann”


The musical runs through March 29 in the Cabot Hall in the Broadway Theatre Center, 108 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. Call 414-291-7800 or visit www.skylightmusictheatre.org.