Durango Melodrama back again

Courtesy of Jenny Fitts Reynolds

Jason Shulof, Gabe Tate, Rachel Lacy and Allie Long of the Durango Melodrama & Vaudeville kicked off the first of more than 70 performances of “The Two Orphans” last weekend at the Henry Strater Theatre.

By Margaret Hedderman
Special to the Herald

You know it’s summer in Durango when the echoes of “gunshots” ricochet down Main Avenue and the villains, heroines and hesitant heroes of the Henry Strater Theatre elicit boos, yays and hisses from a predominantly out-of-state audience. After the return of Diamond Belle shootouts, Durango Melodrama and Vaudeville is back to herald in the height of tourism season.

This year, The Hank hosts “The Two Orphans,” an 1874 classic about two young, beautiful and poor girls who fall victim to villainy upon their arrival in Paris. The eldest, Henriette (played by Amanda Grace Marcheschi), is kidnapped, leaving her blind sister, Louise (Rachel Lacy), at the mercy of an evil beggar woman (Rebecca Mason-Wygal). Further villainy, love stories, miraculous revelations and happy endings ensue.

“The Two Orphans” saw several extended runs throughout Europe and on this side of the Atlantic. It has been adapted into a movie on at least four occasions. The play’s classic, fast-paced storyline and perfectly archetypal characters is a wonderful selection for the Strater’s summer season.

Native to the Durango stage, director Jenny Fitts Reynolds wrangled in a talented cast from all over the country. Those familiar with the Melodrama will recognize a few familiar faces from past years – including Lacy, Mason-Wygal, Gabriel Tate, Charles Britton and Julia Goretsky.

Reynolds’ direction falters only in her ability to bring consistency to the actors’ performance styles. Where many of the actors give true over-the-top, melodramatic performances, others stick to realism. Fortunately, in this case, the strong story material more than makes up for it.

It isn’t until the ensuing vaudeville act that the actors’ capabilities are truly allowed to shine. A near stoic audience came to life Saturday with the sudden energy, creativity and fun the actors found in their interpretation of this classic American theatrical genre.

It is as though the actors were suddenly unchained and set free upon the stage. In true vaudevillian form, the show is an eclectic mix of song-and-dance numbers, skits and, as always, a bit of vamping.

With a run time of nearly three hours, the melodrama and vaudeville performances are broken into three intermissions with musical entertainment by music director Darryl Kuntz. Kuntz returns to the Strater stage where he once performed with his brother at the Diamond Circle Theatre in the early 1970s.

For Durangoans who have yet to visit Melodrama, “The Two Orphans” is a good introduction. Written by Eugene Corman and Adolphe Philippe d’Ennery, “The Two Orphans” was once considered the perfect play by some critics. It was so popular that Kate Claxton, the Meryl Streep of her day, performed the role of Louise for nearly 30 years.

“The Two Orphans” will run through Sept. 22 before making way for the fall season of concerts including Le Chat Lunatique and Finnders and Youngberg, and the annual performance of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in October.

Margaret Hedderman is a freelance writer based in Durango. Reach her at margaretyh@gmail.com.

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