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'DREAM' TEAM
PHILHARMONIC JOINS VIRGINIA ACTORS FOR A LITTLE SHAESPEARE

On its own, Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is crazy enough. It's about two couples who go into the woods on the enchanted summer solstice, encounter spells and sorcery, and become completely transformed.

At Kleinhans Music Hall this weekend, the play will have an extra dose of magic.

In a rare theatrical event, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" will be performed by Virginia actors Saturday night at 8 and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Joining the troupe will be the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Music Director JoAnn Falletta, who will be playing the famous incidental music by Felix Mendelssohn.

You don't often get a chance to hear Mendelssohn's music along with the play. The effect is marvelous. From the rustle of strings that begins the overture to the famous, festive Wedding March, the music is perfect for this otherworldly drama.

The staging, too, will be creative and whimsical. Because actors and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra share the stage, the orchestra will play the forest. Actors will be scampering through the strings and brass -- or whatever sections are convenient.

"We've designed the space so there's safe room, so they can move through at times," says Lesley Ferris, who is directing the production.

The fact that the orchestra's part of the action gives BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta an extra part to play. Ferris sees the conductor as an extension of the character Puck, the sprite who oversees the crazy drama.

"There's a musical Puck, and a theatrical Puck," she says with a laugh.

The theatrical Puck will be a definite focal point. In this production, which was already staged in Virginia with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the spritely character is played by Ricardo Melendez, former director of Ballets de San Juan in Puerto Rico. His performance enchanted a Virginia critic, who described him as "boisterous, energetic and ever-so-mischievous" praised his somersaults, and also said, "He's Puck as a hunk."

With its magical characters and transformations, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" would challenge any director. Ferris, though, revels in the drama's craziness.

"I love the fact that it demonstrates worlds clashing," she says. "There's the human world, and the non-human world of fairies and magic. I like that the worlds crash into each other and get mixed up -- it's a kind of fusion, and it winds up with a lot of comedy and mistaken identity."

The idea of magic was what inspired her to make the orchestra play the forest. "They conjure up the magic world," Ferris says.

Ferris trimmed the script to fit into the orchestra's union-dictated time frame. She also spent some time deciding in what era the drama would take place.

The movie version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" of a couple of years ago, which starred Calista Flockhart and Rupert Everett, created a cloudy, vaguely 19th century atmosphere. Ferris came up with a more definite plan. She decided on the flapper era of the 1920s.

"That period is noted for active autonomous women," she points out. "And this play begins with a clash between a father and a daughter, the old versus the new. You have the independent woman who wants to choose her own partner, not be dictated to by her father."

The 1920s, she adds, reflected that spirit. "The shorter skirts, the boyish cuts, I thought it all spoke to a new sense of freedom," she says.

Ferris' idea caught the imagination of Buffalo-born costume designer Kristine Kearney, who was working with her on the production. "She felt that would give her wonderful options," Ferris says.

And because of Mendelssohn's Wedding March, the audience will even get to see the ultimate wedding. In a conventional production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," the nuptials take place offstage. But because you can't waste that Wedding March, the wedding will be shown, and it adds to the fun. "The characters are able to wear wedding gowns," says Ferris. "And the music is so lush and romantic."

Ferris, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, is chairwoman of the Theater Department at Ohio State University.

Fans of local theater may note that the production will feature Ron Magnum, a graduate of Buffalo's Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. He plays Snug.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream," a joint presentation with the Virginia Arts Festival, will be staged at 8 Saturday night and 2:30 Sunday afternoon in Kleinhans Music Hall. Admission is $25 to $64, with discounts available. For information, call 885-5000.

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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