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In Entertainment, Life on April 16, 2007 at 8:23 pm
Please take a moment to read this review of “Master Class”, currently running in Irving, TX. It stars my mother, Gail Cronauer.

A sacred monster softens in ‘Master Class’
THEATER REVIEW: Callas less cruel in Lyric Stage’s ‘Master Class’

By LAWSON TAITTE / Theater Critic

IRVING – Master Class stands or falls with the quality of the actress playing Maria Callas. The new production by Lyric Stage does quite well, thanks to its star, Gail Cronauer.

Terrence McNally’s play, based on some actual classes the great operatic diva gave to students at New York’s Juilliard School at the end of her meteoric career, is an odd choice for the Irving company. Lyric Stage, after all, is entirely devoted to musicals. Master Class does feature a certain amount of singing, as three advanced students struggle to get through arias despite Callas’ constant interruptions. But a musical it isn’t.

At any rate, the show reviewed Sunday is the play’s first homegrown professional production in Dallas County. (Faye Dunaway performed in the national tour at the Majestic Theatre, though, and Stage West mounted a fine version some years back over in Tarrant County.)

During the course of Master Class, we see Callas affecting modesty as she roars for a cushion or a glass of water. Despite disclaimers that “this is not about me,” she reminisces incessantly about her triumphs at La Scala and elsewhere and dishes the dirt on her rivals. She worries as much about the students’ dress and demeanor as she does their voices and appears dumbfounded when they burst into tears when she says cruel things.

A sacred monster, yes – but opera buff McNally never lets us forget that Maria Callas was a supreme artist who changed the course of performance history. Her passion for detail and dramatic truth is utterly sincere, however tactless the star might be in trying to pass it on.

Ms. Cronauer, a devoted teacher herself, emphasizes her character’s devotion to her art. This Callas is less deliberately cruel than other interpreters of the role. Ms. Cronauer gives us all of La Divina’s depth and much of her glamour. She even manages to preserve her dignity during the two weakest passages in the script, the whiny monologues toward the end of each act in which Callas remembers her long-term love affair with that very un-sacred monster Aristotle Onassis.

The rest of director Cheryl Denson’s cast does well by Master Class , too. Jackson Ross Best Jr. has the strongest legit voice of any man in Dallas musical theater (though he’s not a tenor, so the Puccini aria he sings doesn’t really show off his voice). Jodi C. Wright overprojects the first student’s nervous clumsiness but leaves us wanting to hear more of her lovely vocal sound. It’s an agreeable surprise when Kimberly Whalen, who looks so young and delicate, wrestles Verdi’s horribly difficult aria from Macbeth to submission. James McQuillen not only accompanies them all ably on the piano but creates a sympathetic character while doing so.

Still, however much the leading character denies it, Master Class is all about Maria Callas. It’s Ms. Cronauer you’ll walk out of the theater talking about.

•Through April 28 at Irving Arts Center’s Dupree Theater, 3333 N. MacArthur Blvd., Irving. Runs 140 mins. $23 to $30. 972-594-1904, www.lyricstage.org.

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