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OPERETTA REVIEW The Cousin from Nowhere
by David Mccann

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Music & Libretto: Rideamus ( Fritz Oliven ) and Eduard Kunneke. At: Chicago Folks Operetta at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 773-327-5252, or at or; $25-$40. Runs through: July 24

Poor beautiful, wealthy Julia. Living her pampered life in a mansion and attended by servants, the girl has almost everything her heart could desire. But her lush life has its trials. Her inheritance also supports her greedy guardians, Aunt Wimpel and Uncle Josse, while dreaming of her lost love. Seven years ago she pledged herself to her cousin Roderich, but she hasn't seen or heard from him in all this time. Meanwhile, her two conniving relatives have been plotting to keep Julia's inheritance in the family by marrying her off to their nephew, August. Things become complicated and confusing when a stranger shows up. Because no one has seen August since he was a child, the nephew, who falls in love with Julia at first sight, claims to be the young man for whom she's been pining all these years. The plot thickens when, amid mistaken identities and devious intentions, another stranger arrives on the scene.

This forgotten German operetta, which became an overnight success in Berlin, back in 1921, has been practically lost to the ages. Chicagoans, like most Americans, have probably never heard Eduard Kunneke's beautiful, romantic score, unless they've traveled abroad, where the operetta is still popular and performed regularly. As in all of this company's elegant productions, here's a unique opportunity to enjoy another neglected work from the world of operetta.

Musical director Anthony Barrese guides his gifted cast to melodic perfection, accompanied by a sumptuous 22-piece orchestra, tucked away within Kurtis Boetcher's sparse, white scenic design. Elizabeth Margolius' broad, melodramatic staging, featuring some fancy, stylized choreography by Todd Rhoades, heightens and embellishes the musical's broad comedy.

Heather Youngquist leads the cast as Julia, a lovely young woman with the voice of an angel. Together with comic and musical treasure Genevieve Thiers, as Julia's maid and best friend Hannah, they blend in some of the show's funniest and finest choral moments. Extraordinary Nicolas Pulikowski, as August, is brilliantly funny and possesses a strong, masterful voice.

With Youngquist, their duets fill the venue with rapturous melodies. As glutinous relatives Uncle Josse and Auntie Wimpel, James Judd and Rose Guccione are equally superb comedians and incomparable vocalists. Guccione's hilarious scene with a banana is a must-see moment. There's even more comedy provided by Roy Wilford Belzer and Damon Cole, as Hans and Egon, providing an unexpected campy conclusion to the production.

Overflowing with lush romantic duets, comical foxtrots, passionate tangos and romantic waltzes, Eduard Kunneke's score fills this fairy tale with toe-tapping harmonies and refrains. Enhanced by Maestro Barrese's full orchestra and performed by eight of Chicago's finest singers, Elizabeth Margolius' comical delight is the perfect lighthearted diversion for a warm, summer night.

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