By Colin Douglas
Julia is about to celebrate her 18th birthday and it would seem she has everything a girl would want. Living her pampered life in a mansion and attended by servants, the girl has more than enough, but her lush life also has its crosses to bear. She supports her two greedy guardians, Aunt Wimpel and Uncle Josse, with her endless inheritance, while dreaming about a lost love. Long ago it seems she pledged herself to her cousin Roderich, but she hasn’t seen or heard from him in seven years. Meanwhile, her two conniving relatives have been plotting to keep Julia’s inheritance in the family by marrying her off to their nephew, August. Things become complicated and confusing when a stranger shows up. Since no one has seen August since he was a child, the nephew, who falls in love with Julia at first sight, claims to be the young man for whom she’s been pining all these years. The plot thickens when, amid mistaken identities and devious intentions, another stranger arrives on the scene.
The Cousin From Nowhere, a forgotten 1921 German operetta, which became an overnight success in Berlin, has been practically lost to the ages. Chicagoans have likely never heard Eduard Kunneke’s beautiful, romantic score before this, unless they’ve traveled abroad, where the operetta is still popular and performed regularly in Germany. As with all of Chicago Folks Operetta’s elegant productions, here’s a unique opportunity to enjoy yet another neglected work from the world of operetta.
Musical Director Anthony Barrese guides his gifted cast to melodic perfection, accompanied by a sumptuous 22-piece orchestra, tucked away inside Kurtis Boetcher’s sparse, white scenic design. Elizabeth Margolius’ broad, melodramatic staging, featuring some fancy, stylized choreography by Todd Rhoades, heightens and embellishes the musical’s broad comedy.
Heather Youngquist leads the cast as Julia, a lovely young woman with the voice of an angel. Together with comic and musical treasure Genevieve Thiers, as Julia’s maid and best friend Hannah, they blend in some of the show’s funniest and finest choral moments. Nicolas Pulikowski is wonderful as August. The actor is brilliantly funny and possesses a strong, masterful voice. With Youngquist, their duets fill the venue with rapturous melodies. As gluttonous relatives Uncle Josse and Auntie Wimpel, James Judd and Rose Guccione are equally superb comedians and incomparable vocalists. Guccione’s hilarious scene with a banana is a must-see moment. There’s even more comedy provided by Roy Wilford Belzer and Damon Cole, as Hans and Egon, and provides an unexpected campy conclusion to the whole production.
With a libretto by Fritz Oliven, translated into English by Hersh Glagov and Gerald Franzen, and overflowing with lush romantic ballads, comical foxtrots, passionate tangos and romantic waltzes, Eduard Kunneke’s score fills this fairy tale with toe-tapping harmonies and refrains. Enhanced by Maestro Barrese’s full orchestra and performed by eight of Chicago’s finest singers, Margolius’ comical delight is the perfect lighthearted diversion for a warm, summer night.
Chicago Folks Operetta presents, “The Cousin from Nowhere,” through July 24 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Jackelynne Ybarra.