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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Dvorak in America

Nothing’s going right and everyone's pretending that it is. —Antonin Dvorak to his wife.

If you’re going to write a musical, it certainly helps to have Dvorak write the music. The challenge, of course, is the book and the lyrics. Although sometimes uneven and a victim of the melodies, the production, which is reminiscent of movie bio musicals of the 1950s, has a fine cast with excellent voices and some solid set pieces.

It’s common knowledge that Dvorak’s "New World Symphony" is named for America. It is less well known that some of the music’s rhythms were inspired by Indian drums and some melodies by Negro spirituals.

The musical has Antonin Dvorak (Fred Ochs) bitter and blocked at the end of his dispiriting teaching stint at The New York Conservatory. "When I was young, music came out faster than I could get it down," he ruminates morosely. At the suggestion of his assistant, J.J. Kovarik (Drew Messinger Michael), the family moves to Spillville, Iowa, for the summer. It’s a town where Czech is spoken, so the Dvoraks feel right at home.

The family consists of Antonin, his wife Anna (Dina Bennett), their daughter Otilie (Lara Janine) and their little boy Tonik (Sterling Beaumon). An uninvited family member, Anna’s sister, the actress and Countess Josephine Kaunic (Kelly Lester), stirs up a summer storm. Her purpose is to revive her passionate romance with the composer and, whether it’s this or the native drums and spirituals that Dvorak finds in the American countryside, music begins to flow out of him.

Co-authors Janet Barnet and Alice Lunsford met at The Academy for New Musical Theatre and both have solid backgrounds in writing and composing. Director David Galligan shrewdly shapes the material to its best advantage and draws excellent characterizations out of the performers. Lee Martino’s choreography makes bright innovative use of "All Aboard" in which the family travels by train to Iowa and "Welcome to the Midway" when they all go to the Chicago fair.

Fred Ochs is a crusty Dvorak, victimized by artistic temperament and torn between two beautiful women, his wife and sister-in-law.

"A Little Reminder", his duet with Josephine is a charmer. The show closes with another strong number, "What is Love."

Dina Bennett brings a distraught dignity to Anna and Kelly Lester implacable charm to Josephine. The two recall family history in the amusing "Mother’s Advice." Anna also has a fiery duet with her daughter (the luminous Lara Janine),"Let Me Go." JJ Kovarik is a shy repressed student reminiscent of the cello-playing son in A Little Night Music. and Drew Messenger Michael is still searching for a way to distinguish himself Young Sterling Beaumon who plays Tonik has the beautiful voice of a boy chorister and a flair for comedy that make him delightful without trying, avoiding one of the pitfalls of child actors.

Bonnie Stauch designed realistic and beautiful costumes. Lori Marple-Perslete and Tony Perslete made the minimal set authentic. The show gives us an interesting well-paced view of Dvorak’s life, although, as he believed, his music doesn’t need words.

DVORAK IN AMERICAbr> Based on melodies of Antonin Dvorak:
Book by Janet Barnet and Alice Lunsford, music and lyrics by Janet Barnet, additional lyrics by Alice Lundsford
Director: David Galligan
Musical Direction: Wayne Moore
Choreography: Lee Martino
Cast: .Fred Ochs (Antonin Dvorak), Drew Messenger Michael (JJ Kovarik), Anna Dvorak (Dina Bennett), Lara Janine (Otilie Dvorak), Sterling Beaumon (Tonik Dvorak), Kelly Lester (Countess Josephine Kaunic)
Set Decoration & Properties: Lori Marple-Perslete
Set Design & Construction: Tony Peresleter> Lighting Design: Michael Zinman
Costume Design: Bonnie Stauch
Hairstylings: Mark Grey
Running Time: Two hours 10 minutes with one intermission
Running Dates: October 7-November 12, 2006
Where:..The Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Reservations: (323) 960-4429
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on October 7.

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