When our talented new Lamb, Kelli Estes, occasionally flees New York for her native Texas, it is serious and very delightful business. It was in Houston that Kelli had completed her Music Masters degree at U. of H. Since then, Kelli’s journeys in opera and musical theater have taken her to such companies as Houston’s Opera in the Heights, Opera Company of Brooklyn, and Philadelphia’s Center City Opera Theater. Here in the northeast she is Creative Director of the annual musical review, “The Other Side,” author of the “Imagine That!” musical theater workshop, and travels from coast to coast performing her “Your Songs” programs for the elderly. But it is back in Houston where Kelli is currently focusing her musical talents.
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. As the company’s founder, Kelli does plenty of bouncing between New York and Houston, and her youthful sparkle and boundless energy have now propelled Lone Star into its second successful season. Estes describes the festival’s mission as an opportunity “…to re-experience the lyric theatre.”
In a happy confluence of events, my work in journalism had me in Houston at the time of the company’s recent elegant Sneak Preview Gala and fundraiser held at Houston’s chic Ovations Theatre. If what I saw was any indication of the quality to come, Houstonians are headed for a truly joyful summer festival of operetta. The gala sampling included works by Johann Strauss II, Franz Lehar, Victor Herbert, Emmerich Kálmán, and Arthur Sullivan, with a superb young cast of talented Houston area vocalists hand-picked by Estes. 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.” How delightful to think a fellow Lamb had put it all together.