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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Master Class” Review Round-Up

July 8th, 2011

Get caught up on what’s new on stage with a review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents. Today, in a special “opening-night” edition, we’re up bright and early with pencils sharpened for our Master Class:

Photo by Joan Marcus.


In Terrence McNally’s dramatic aria of a play, Tyne Daly channels Maria Callas guiding young opera students and getting lost in her own past.

“Yet Ms. Daly transforms that script into one of the most haunting portraits I’ve seen of life after stardom.” New York Times

“Stephen Wadsworth’s uneven production mostly succeeds in exposing the weaknesses in McNally’s script.” New York Post

“…Daly bears perhaps the least physical resemblance to the legendary opera singer. Yet her Callas is nothing less than compelling.” Entertainment Weekly

“Something electrifying happens onstage here whenever Callas is instructing these kids in how to listen to the music, interpret a lyric, feel a character, and act the hell out of a scene…” Variety

Mizer’s Two Cents: Imagine you hear a cover version of a song you like. The singer is great, the arrangement is nearly identical and yet it doesn’t feel quite as satisfying. That’s what seeing this revival was like for me.

Alexandra Silber. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The pieces are all certainly in place and moments of the show, particularly when student and teacher are working through a song, are thrilling. Tyne Daly makes an entertaining, vibrant Maria Callas; she brings a witty awareness of how a great performer plays with her audience (I loved her sidelong glances at the crowd to see how a remark has landed) and real musicianship (she actually sings in one lovely moment). And it’s not as if the staging is a startling revision (Macbeth in kimonos…on ice!); Master Class is deceptively simple (an auditorium, three students, a diva) and director Stephen Wadsworth sticks to the basics–other than a slick scenic flourish designed by Thomas Lynch for the “memory” sequences. The actors playing the students are all magnificent singers and Daly’s exchanges with Alexandra Silber as the wide-eyed first student lead to an unexpectedly moving resolution in the first act (whereas, in my mind, the original Broadway version all built to the climactic battle with Audra McDonald). I laughed a lot, appreciated the work and yet was not as moved as I’d expected to be. The only thing I can put my finger on is that I’m not sure I believed I was at a master class. The set-up is so easy to give in to (you are, in fact, in a theater watching these people in real time) and yet I was never swept away; something in the rhythm made me aware I was watching a play.

See It: If you are a fan of Tyne Daly, an Opera devotee or you’ve seen prior productions and are fascinated, as I am, by the way the chemistry of a play can change with the simplest choices.

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