suburbantheatre - H. Lee Murphy
Troupe finds big voice for 'South Pacific'
January 17, 1997
Finding a big opera-quality voice to fill the key role of Emile de Becque in the musical "South Pacific" is typically the greatest challenge facing any director attempting to mount the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic. At Marquee Theatre Company in Evanston, however, Geoffrey Edwards didn't have to look very far to find his Emile.
The 32-year-old Edwards, who founded Marquee three years ago as a professional troupe of modest resources devoted to serious drama, happens to be the son of the celebrated baritone Ryan Edwards. Now 55 and semi-active in a solo concert career, Edwards père was for more than two decades a star at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, taking major roles in such standard works as "Carmen" and "Don Carlo" before retiring in 1993. Through his career he toured the major opera houses of Europe and America including several stints at Ravinia with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
It will be Ryan Edwards who will fill the role of Emile, the courtly French planter who falls under the rhapsodic Polynesian spell cast by American war nurse Nellie Forbush. (The 1949 original on Broadway starred Ezio Pinza another refugee from opera, who was a bass.) It won't be Ryan Edwards' first appearance with Marquee; he's taken starring roles in past seasons in "Antony and Cleopatra" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
"Working with my dad is a dream come true," says Geoffrey. "He's the perfect age to play Emile, and his voice still has great range. Plus he's tall and aristogratic-looking, which is what Emile should be."
The younger Edwards keeps a busy schedule. He is artistic director at Marquee, where he stages three plays each season, and he is also stage director for the DuPage Opera Theatre in Glen Ellyn. He has worked on a free-lance basis with a variety of other troupes, ranging from Chicago Opera Theatre to the Tower Players in Winnetka.
There is always time for special collaborations with his father, however. The two lecture on opera together to school audiences around the country, and in 1994 they co-wrote "The Verdi Baritone," regarded by opera cognoscenti as a standard text for any aspiring Verdi singer.
Geoffrey Edwards, in fact, had a degree in English from Northwestern University and was intent on a career as a writer a decade ago before his father gently steered him towards the theatre. "He encouraged my to try directing, and I went back to Northwestern eventually and got a Ph.D. in theatre and drama," the younger Edwards explains.
The founding of the professional Marquee troupe allowed Edwards to rise above the North Shore community theatre milieu where he'd been for several years. It also gave him a staging ground for the sort of serious works being done at Court Theatre in Chicago but hardly anywhere in the suburbs. Revivals such as Moliere's "The Misanthrope" and Shakespeare's "As You Like It," the latter in October, have proved to be surprise hits, drawing capacity audiences to Marquee's 100-seat playhouse in the Covenant United Methodist Church.
Surprisingly, the fledgling group has turned a profit on every production so far. Auditions are crowded with some of the best non-Equity actors the area has to offer, most of them eager to pump up the resumes with important parts generally reserved for full Equity stars at other companies. Edwards has little desire, for now, to graduate to a larger space elsewhere that would allow bigger budgets for scenery and musicians (the orchestration for "South Pacific," the first musical in Marquee's short history, has been prerecorded).
"I conceived Marquee with the idea that the one thing missing in most theatres is a sense of connection with the audience," Edwards says. "Too many shows in big theatres are removed and remote from their audiences. You lose all subtlety in classic plays when your actors are heavily amplified with microphones. We want our audiences to have a sense that thye're participating in the event."
Some "South Pacific" parts here have been double-cast. Lyric Operat tenor Eric Perkins fills the role of Lt. Cable. Kirsten Bierie and Rosalind Lee share the role of Nellie, as Brian J. McCartney and David Fell do with the role of Billis.
There is a single performance at 8 p.m. on Saturday this weekend, followed by performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Feb 8. at the Covenant Church, 2123 Harrison St., Evanston. For tickets, call 847-604-0535.
©1997 Chicago Tribune
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