By Mike Dunham
The new Wild Berry Theatre presents an interesting alternative venue for Anchorage. Among other things, it’s the first place where you can have popcorn and a soda while watching an opera. That’s what happened on Feb. 14 as Anchorage Opera kicked off its “Second Stage” series there with Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti.”
You have to really want to get there to find the place, but it’s probably worth it for this debut. As the troubled ‘50s suburban couple, Toby Newman and Jason Kaminski performed earnestly and convincingly. Christine Keene, John Fraser and Zach Vreeman — who formed a kind of Greek chorus in sarcastic doo-wop counterpoint to the dead-end helplessness of the leads — were campy and delightfully choreographed by director Bill Fabris.
“Trouble” is one of maybe six American operas, most dating from the early 1950s, that has found a place in the repertoire. It’s also the saddest piece I can think of where nobody dies, a piece of genuinely great theater in its own right.
But the most telling musical moment came in the first half of the program, a selection of Bernstein songs from his early Broadway era, when Keene sang “My House” from Peter Pan. In this number, one could hear her well-supported soprano “play” the space, drawing just a little reverb from the beams and walls. Keene’s characterization of a 10-year-old also charmed in the cycle “I Hate Music.” Tom Getty supplied excellent accompaniment throughout.
The theater is located just south of Alaska Wild Berry Products, 5225 Juneau Street. Take Old Seward to International, turn as if you’re heading to Sourdough Mining Company, look for the locomotive and imitation frontier town under a water tower — hard to see in the dark. It’s a short walk along a path covered with a canopy of lights. The hall is steeply banked; unless you sit in the front row, you’ll have to climb. The stage is wide, but shallow, but was well-utilized in this show.
“Trouble” will be presented again at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 16 and Feb. 23, and it’s only one third of the mini-season Anchorage Opera is staging there. The Russian American Colony Singers, with assistance of visiting Russian Russian singers perform with dancers at 8 p.m. on Feb. 17 and 24 and at 4 p.m. on Feb. 25. And a musical version of “Little Red Riding Hood” will take place at 1 p.m. on Feb. 17, 18 and 24. Popcorn, soda and other snacks sold in the lobby and OK to bring in with you. For information, call 562-8858.