After an award-winning stint at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in 2008 and a sold-out run at Queens Theatre in the Park last year, this good-natured celebration of Greek culture is back for a five-week run at the Hellenic Cultural Center in Astoria, Queens, which any New Yorker knows is a huge and thriving Greek-American neighborhood. Fueled (but not prejudiced, oh no) by a delicious Greek lunch at Stamatis Restaurant, we attended an afternoon performance with an audience enlarged by a busload of teenagers. The fact that the show held the kids’ attention, more or less, for its whole two-act length probably says more than any praise I could give it in this review.
The story is simple and old-fashioned and gets pretty silly, but that’s all part of its lighthearted spirit. Anyone expecting Sunday in the Park with George should have taken note of the exclamation point in the title. OPA! does, however, share one thing with Sondheim’s cerebral piece: the second act takes place after years have passed, with a new generation revisiting the sins and errors of a previous one.
In Act I, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld brings a bell-clear, Disney-princess voice and sprightly persona to the role of young Sophia, a girl who wants more than life on her tiny Greek island can offer. In addition to yearning to go to Athens and act in classical Greek tragedies, Sophia loves the cocky Manos (the powerful-voiced and quite funny Yanni Amouris), who harbors even grander ambitions of emigrating to America. Meanwhile young Costa (the cherubic-voiced Brent Lomas) pines hopelessly for Sophia.
The Greek palace guard, arriving on the island looking for recruits, breaks up the love triangle; off goes manly Manos to the mainland, with shy, good-hearted Costa trailing along. When Sophia turns up in Athens only to be jilted by her hometown lover, she settles for second best. Big mistake? Act II will tell.
Twenty years later (and after Intermission), the characters have grown but the society hasn’t seemed to change. The play exists in a time out of time. Aside from one joke about the economic woes of modern-day Greece, it’s a fantasy universe where people eventually see the light, everything works out in the end, and there’s no place like home. Whitney Brown as 40-year-old Sophia has some excellent comedic moments, Andrew Lidestri is crowd-pleasingly funny as a bloated older Manos, and Kristofer Holz, in fine voice, does excellent work as the older Costa, now a mild-mannered Mayor, still trying to bring the island prosperity through olive breeding. The supporting cast supplies a number of amusing turns too.
But the primary key to the show’s success is the music, by the late Hollywood composer Nicholas Carras and musical director/pianist Elise Morris. A harmonious mix of light-modern staccato rhythms, big Broadway-style harmonies, and Mediterranean flavors, it is well matched by concise, clever lyrics; both provide food for the brain as well as the soul. Carras’s daughter Mari, who created the show and co-wrote the book and lyrics, deserves kudos for bringing all this fine talent together.
The action moves along quickly, surmounting what appeared to be a few slight opening-weekend jitters. Energetically and economically directed by Sam Viverito, with effective choreography by Greek folk dance expert Anthoula Katsimatides, OPA! The Musical runs Friday-Sunday through Nov. 21 at the Hellenic Cultural Center, 27-09 Crescent St., Astoria, Queens, New York.