The L’s Mary Block liked this big fat Greek musical; we’re going to have to talk.
Like Mamma Mia! and most other shows with exclamatory phrases for names, the new musical Opa! lets its audience relax and embrace its shiny, singing camp because it never asks to be taken seriously. It gives us permission to laugh at its terrible jokes and eat up its flailing dance interludes and delight in its soaring musical numbers with names like “Why Am I So Beautiful?” and “You Lied!” The TGB Theater’s bright, jaunty production of Opa! does the show’s songbook justice, providing a welcome retreat from cynicism and, well, thinking.
The forgotten Greek island of Elia prepares for its deliverance from obscurity after Mayor Costa (Joseph Callari) has it included on the map of the world. The lives of the villagers (appropriately garbed in headscarves and fishermen’s caps–accepting the Greek stereotypes is a big part of embracing Opa!‘s camp) devolve into chaos at the prospect of an accessible outside world, and the audience gets to watch.
Part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival, Opa! is barely contained by the black box in which it’s performed. The cast’s enormous collective energy and grand theatricality deserve a far larger performance space (I was pretty much onstage in the front row). Costa Nicolas, as the young Costa, seems almost delirious dancing a furious Greek sirto, and the castmembers’ (especially Callari, Demetrios Bonaros, and Carolee Goodgold) stunning, powerful voices reverberate forcefully against the tiny theater’s walls. The production’s only weak point is Abigail Hardin as ingenue Eleni, whose voice is undeniably pretty but who seems amateur amidst the confidence and professionalism exuded by the rest of the cast. A four-piece band onstage accompanies every musical number, augmenting the production’s grandness. Opa! is broad and and silly and fun: it accomplishes everything it sets out to do.