Gift from the past

Chico State presents the sumptuous music and romantic story of one of the great operettas

Photo 2 caption

Photo 2 caption

“Gorgeous grandeur” is the way director Joel P. Rogers describes The New Moon, Sigmund Romberg’s romantic and refreshing jewel of an operetta that opens at Chico State University next Wednesday evening. “It’s a real fun show with catchy tunes, funny characters, and some hilarious moments.”

The New Moon is the third and final production in the university’s current operetta series, made possible in large part by a grant from Chico theater patron Marilyn Warrens. Romberg’s creation, The Student Prince, was presented in 1998, followed by Victor Herbert’s Naughty Marietta in 2000. Sumptuous costumes by Gail Holbrook, Marty Gilbert’s ingenious set, and an outstanding cast headed by New Yorker Reed Davis promise exhilarating entertainment for those who attend the show.

Romberg’s music glitters. Rogers and Music Department Chairman James M. Bankhead direct a large cast and a full pit orchestra in a vigorous “Stouthearted Men,” the haunting “Wanting You,” and such standards as “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” and “Lover, Come Back to Me”—with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II adding to the rich mix.

Romberg has hung his score on a fragile, unabashedly romantic plot with all the characteristics of the operetta genre: political strife, nobles in disguise, beautiful young women, pirates, a shipwreck and tropical islands. The story opens in New Orleans in the late 1700s. Robert Mission, a French nobleman and political refugee disguised as an indentured servant, recruits “stouthearted men” in the cause of American liberty. When Robert is arrested and sent back to France on the sailing ship, The New Moon, his beloved Marianne stows away. Through myriad trials, the plot eventually resolves into the requisite happy ending.

Reed Davis, a Chico State alum, returns in the role of Robert Mission, and local actress/singer Jenny Rand plays the lovely Marianne, with Chico State students and community members rounding out the cast.

The New Moon originally opened on Broadway in 1928 with Robert Halliday and Evelyn Herbert in the leading roles and ran more than 500 performances, the last great operetta of the 1920s. While interest in the operetta form was waning in New York, the advent of sound in films inspired Hollywood studios to look to a future in musicals, and in 1930 MGM released The New Moon starring Grace Moore and Lawrence Tibbett. Despite somewhat primitive sound techniques and some wooden acting by Moore, the film played to full houses.

The film Warrens vividly remembers appeared a decade later. As a child living in Texas during the Depression, Warrens often accompanied her grandmother to the local movie theater. It was there that she sat, spellbound, and watched The New Moon, starring the romantic team of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Although Warrens has seen many operettas all over the world since then, The New Moon remains her favorite, she said, and to see it again will be “a gift from the past.”

Following the lead of stage critics a few years earlier, film critics began to see the operetta as outdated, with one critic calling it “sugar-coated musical fiction.” The light classical form that bridged musical theater from the days of burlesque and extravaganzas to the innovative Oklahoma! had crystallized.

Chico State’s production of The New Moon—a joint production of the College of Humanities and Fine arts and the Theater Arts and Music departments—offers us one more chance to take out and enjoy Warrens’ favorite operetta.