If operetta (as diva Beverly Sills famously observed) is “pure whipped cream,” then Houston’s annual Lone Star Lyric Theatre Festival must surely be the cherry on top. Company founder, Kelli Estes, an original member of Opera in the Heights, has sung with the Opera Company of Brooklyn, Philadelphia’s Center City Opera Theatre, and was recently honored with selection to membership in America’s oldest theatre club, The Lambs in New York. Bouncing between New York and Houston, her youthful sparkle and boundless energy have now propelled Lone Star into a second season scheduled for this June. If the group’s elegant Sneak Preview Gala and fundraiser (held last night at Houston’s Ovations Theatre ) was any indication of the quality to come, readers should get their tickets early. The gala sampling included works by Johann Strauss II, Franz Lehar, Victor Herbert, Emmerich Kálmán, and Arthur Sullivan.
In addition to Miss Estes, the superb young cast of talented Houston area vocalists included such rising stars as Eileen Benvegnu, Eric Peabody, Oliver Worthington, Danica Dawn Johnston, Kelly Waguespack, Shirld “Charlie” Milton, Tracelyn and Thor Gesteland, Frances Fenton, Joe Carl White, Misha Penton, and Nancy Markeloff. If there were a few moments when a singer or two seemed a bit breathless, it could not diminish the uniformly fine cast that Estes had culled in audition.
In the intimate theater, the elegantly dressed performers were free (at Estes behest) to roam about an audience that was comfortably seated in large upholstered chairs surrounding gaily decorated cabaret tables. Singers might pop up on a balcony, atop a staircase, or peeking out of an onstage window. Meanwhile, there were countless musical delights from such operetta staples as “Ruddigore,” “Naughty Marietta,” and “Mademoiselle Modiste.”
If anyone doubted the ensemble’s collective quality, those doubts were erased in the absolutely heavenly finale of Strauss’ “Sing to Love,” from Die Fledermaus. Voices blended perfectly in that number, and counterpoints were so joyfully executed that I would have to add the segment to my list of Ten Most Heavenly Moments in Musical Theatre.
For tickets to sample these joys during the four Festival performances (June 26th-28th at 7:30 pm and June 29th at 2pm), call 212-567-1098, or visit the website at www.lonestarlyric.org.