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Marriage of BPO, Irish Classical produces a magical 'Midsummer Night's Dream'

Marriage is often the key to a Shakespeare comedy. No matter how wild and complicated the play’s twists and turns might be, it always veers towards a happy wedding (or three).

At Kleinhans Music Hall, we see another kind of marriage: a perfect matrimony of theater and music, as Irish Classical Theatre and the Buffalo Philharmonic jointly stage a magical “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Directed by Fortunato Pezzimenti, this spectacular production features a vibrant and uniformly excellent cast who bring to vivid life Shakespeare’s wondrous tale of a pair of couples, at first confused, and then brought together, by fairy chaos.

The play’s inspired set (designed by David Dwyer) transplants us into an ancient Athenian forest filled with weirdly bright birch-trees and flowers. With video projections of shimmering trees or blue skies (designed by Brian Milbrand), Pezzimenti creates a whimsically colorful atmosphere for Shakespeare’s wild play.

JoAnn Falletta’s adept conducting of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra enriches the theater experience, as she organically integrates airy and Romantic selections from Felix Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” into the performance.

A fine example of Falletta’s orchestra enhancing the play involves a fairy court scene, in which the soprano Karen D’Angelo and the mezzo soprano Maria Parker sing sublimely about protecting their sleeping Fairy Queen.

Numerous performances make this a must-see production. Firstly, the play features a first-rate pair of Athenian couples, whose already complicated love problems are made even more chaotic by the mischievous fairy Puck (played with acrobatic mirth by Brendan Didio).

David Wysocki is outstanding as Lysander, convincingly conveying his ardent passion for one woman, before switching to an equally absolute commitment to another after being bewitched. Lysander’s competition with Demetrius (Nick Stevens) creates some hysterical physical comedy.

Kit Kuebler is fantastic as Helena, seamlessly shifting from sadness to anger as she comes to suspect that all are playing with her emotions. Kayla Storto is equally engaging as Hermia, frantically negotiating a wildly shifting situation in which she is transformed from the beloved to the hated. Kuebler and Storto offer truly enthralling and endearing comic energy.

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Vincent O’Neill provides both humor and regality as Theseus. O’Neill also looks splendidly strange and powerful in his role as the fairy king Oberon, who often lurks behind trees while observing the strange behavior of the mortals.

In a standout performance, Aleks Malejs is riveting in her dual roles as Theseus’s bride-to-be, Hippolyta, and the fairy queen Titania. Looking both regal and luminous as Titania in her pink, flowered dress, Malejs delivers the play’s most wildly comic moments as she falls for a literal jackass: Even she, the fairy queen, finds herself caught in that dangerous fairy magic that redirects our desires to the wrong targets.

Pezzimenti does a wonderful job with Shakespeare’s play-within-the-play. As himself both an actor and director, Shakespeare surely had special fun satirizing his own profession, when he portrayed a group of profoundly inept tradesmen putting on a truly horrible rendition of “Pyramus and Thisbe.”

Dudney Joseph is hilarious as Tom Snout, whose absolute seriousness while playing the Wall is immensely entertaining. However, Phillip Farugia (as Bottom) and Kevin Kennedy (as Flute) steal the show-within-the-show.

Playing Thisbe as a bashful and high-pitched ball of energy, Kennedy brings the comedy of drag into the mix. Ever bombastic and supremely inept, Farugia’s Bottom proves to be the perfect Pyramus. Seeming to go on for ages, Farugia’s death-scene as Pyramus is a piece of comic exaggeration for the ages.


“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

4 stars (out of four)

Through Jan. 19 at Kleinhans Music Hall (3 Symphony Circle). Tickets are $39-94 (box office, website).

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