"Red Death" KC Metropolis Review by Lee Hartman

Composer Daniel Doss and librettist Bryan Colley have strong source material in their new opera Red Death. Edgar Allen Poe’s gothic sensibilities in “The Masque of the Red Death” have been supplemented with text from Lucretius, Ecclesiastes, and Montaigne for the one-act, forty-minute opera playing at Off Center Theatre.

Nathan Granner stars as Prince Prospero, host to some unafflicted revellers in his cloistered estate. The Red Death has been killing anyone who contracts it within a half hour. Barring the gate to new entries and from anyone leaving, and thus safe, Prospero throws a masque filled with circus acts, dancing, and laughter. Devon Barnes as Prospero’s servant has already seen her family succumb to the Red Death and wonders if all this revelry is premature.

The production values of Red Death put many other Fringe shows to shame. Directed by Tara Varney, the blocking is crisp around Bryan Colley’s sets and make excellent use of the space with Amy Hurrelbrink’s engaging choreography. Shane Rowse’s lighting design is particularly moody with its saturated reds, greens, and oranges. Granner’s costume is lux and Coleman Crenshaw’s mask as the Uninvited Guest is a work of beauty. However, the company’s costumes seem more appropriate for a production of Pippin with their lime green accents, clashing florals, and fluorescent pinks.

Doss’s music, especially his accompaniment, is more in the vein of musicals than opera. His score is tonally conservative and lacks the Grand Guignol of the subject matter. If Doss could add more dissonance, space, and silence in his busy treatment, that disconnect would be diminished because as it stands now, Red Death strives to be darker than it actually is. Which isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable; there is plenty to like. Doss’s prosody of Colley’s text is masterful even when dealing with cringe-worthy Lloyd Webber-esque rhyming couplets. With that skill, the story is never lost. Granner, at full volume for most of his singing, is convincing with his laissez-faire attitude and Barnes, aside from a few diction issues of American versus British pronunciation, is an equal match. Accompanist Michalis Koutsoupides is kept busy with the noty score and maintains a constant, solid presence throughout.

Red Death should be on your “to see” list for this year’s Fringe. It tries something new, albeit conservatively, but the performances and production are worthy of attention.

Read the review at KC Metropolis

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