The 1920s were known for the emergence of both jazz and the brassy American-style musical. But it was Sigmund Romberg’s instantly popular, cornball, European-style operetta The Student Prince that managed to sustain the longest run of any musical of the decade — at 608 performances outrunning even the breakthrough Showboat. It was filmed twice (in 1927 and 1954), enjoyed a successful Broadway revival in the 1940s, endured in stock and amateur performances well into the 1950s, and as late as the early 1980s was being performed as part of the New York City Opera repertory. What is it about The Student Prince that allows it to continually pop up with the freshness of newly spun lace?
The Gallery Players recently remounted the perennially popular warhorse, and the answer could be found in their production. While Dorothy Donnelly’s book is schmaltzy and stilted, its story of youthful ebullience, commitment to duty, and bittersweet regret is almost irresistible, especially when it is presented as lovingly as in Michael D. Jackson’s gorgeous production. And then, of course, there is Sigmund Romberg’s score — a melodic and high-flown mini-masterpiece. Containing as it does such gems as "Deep In My Heart," "Golden Days," "Come Boys," and the instantly recognizable "Drinking Song"(a melody that has taken on a life of its own), under Dominic Amendum’s musical direction it was beautifully performed by a uniformly excellent cast.
As the young Prince Karl, torn between his love for the barmaid Kathy and his sense of duty to his country, Brian Charles Rooney was well-nigh perfect and was well matched by Bonnie Joyce Johnson’s attractively voiced Kathy. Also outstanding in the large cast were Kaytee Stoppe as a social-climbing barmaid, Steve Minow as Karl’s tutor, Kirstie R. Bingham as the princess Karl is bound to marry, and Sidney Fortner, a grand hoot as a Grand Duchess.
Joel Rapp’s set was a winning series of tableau-like facades that kept unfolding like the leaves of a children’s storybook. It complemented Abby Taylor Smith’s brightly colored, perfectly detailed period costumes to a T. Jason Jeunnette lighted the production with an appropriately golden-tinged, pristine clarity.
In the wrong hands, The Student Prince could have been a dreadful experience, for it does have some elements that could be considered camp by today’s standards (the lyrics to "Come Boys," for example, held a different meaning 80 years ago than they do today). But when handled with the respect it deserves and played straight, as it was in this production, The Student Prince remains a charming, funny, and moving experience. The huge, contagious grin on the face of ensemble member Macy Neumeier said it all, and then some.
(Also featuring Anika Altmann, Daniel Chavez Jr., Bernard Feinerman, Michael Halpner, Greg Horton, Alicia Lizama, Jeffrey G. McCrann, Bryan O’Connor, Breanna Pine, Richie Portela, Jeffrey Schulman, Dominic Sheahan-Stahl, Matt Sigl, Zach Wobensmith, and Paul Wyatt.)