Song of Norway
The 1944 operetta "Song of Norway" is as up-to-date as the horse-drawn wagon or knee-breeches. It appears not so much to be of another century as from another planet.
It’s more than dated. It seems primordial -- so old as to be fit for radio carbon-dating.
Even so, I doubt that many members of the audience walking out from the Collegiate Chorale’s performance of the mostly-forgotten tune-filled show on Tuesday night weren’t satisfied. For the music and the performances were superlative.
Very loosely based on the life of composer Edvard Grieg, "Song of Norway" incorporates melodies from the composer’s piano concerto, his incidental music for "Peer Gynt," his dances and his songbooks. These served well enough to overcome its fourth-rate book, providing the platform for a work that ran for more than two years on Broadway.
That production enlisted Balanchine as choreographer and included the great Maria Tallchief and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carol for its dance numbers. The show then became a hit in London, and in 1970 it was turned into a movie starring Florence Henderson.
This should tell you quite a bit about Grieg’s greatness, no matter that the writing is about as sophisticated as pink champagne. The story, such as it is, revolves around the question of whether Grieg (Santino Fontana) will be corrupted by his burgeoning fame and his alliance with conceited opera star Louisa Giovanni (Judy Kaye) and thereby drawn away from the small-town girl (Alexandra Silber) who truly loves him and the sickly poet-collaborator (Jason Danieley) who is his best friend.
If three people in the Carnegie Hall audience of more than two thousand were in genuine suspense about all this, I’d be surprised.
Then again, why should they have cared? After all, the actual facts of Grieg’s life don’t correspond much to the story. (To cite but two examples: Grieg’s friend wasn’t a poet but rather a rival composer, and Grieg didn’t return to Norway to live there ever after following a tour of Italy, as the show suggests, but instead moved about widely and even served for two years as the music director of the Berlin Philharmonic.)
No matter: the cast, the chorus and Grieg’s music all shone.
They were aided in this by the vitality and beauty of the Chorus’ singing and by the deft narration of "Barnum" star Jim Dale.
The Collegiate Chorale supplemented the story with intermittent appearances from the Tom Gold dancers. Showing up in appropriate peasant costumes, they helped speed the proceedings along.
More essential was the uniformly excellent and engaging cast, headed up by new Tony Nominee Santino Fontana. Fontana was invariably puckish and fun to watch while Kaye was appropriately extravagant. An extra special treat though was Silber in the ingenue role of Grieg’s bride-to-be, Nina, his real-life first cousin.
Silber, like Grieg himself, is an artist with warmth, feeling and a musical talent to match.
"Song of Norway" ran through Apr. 30 at Carnegie Hall, 881 Seventh Ave. For more information, visit http://collegiatechorale.org/performances/song-of-norway. For info on upcoming shows at Carnegie Hall, visit www.carnegiehall.org/