Maria Callas – the name alone brings chills to every opera fan, not to mention the voice that took the world by storm. Callas has once again found her way back to the Broadway stage in Manhattan Theatre Club’s revival of Master Class. Written by famed playwright Terrence McNally this stunning piece mixes facts with fiction while telling the incredible story of Maria Callas – this time played by the larger than life Tyne Daly. This revival is funny, smart, elegant, passionate, and loaded with talent that will leave you speechless.
The famous Maria Callas had a very fast rise to fame and an even faster fall with a career that only lasted about ten years. Master Class takes a look at what might have happened in the later years of Callas’ life as she was known to hold open master classes to pass down her knowledge of performance and vocal technique. Along the way however, Callas cannot help but be sucked into her past where she lets the audience in on past events of her life – the struggles with being overweight, the divorce of her first husband Battista Meneghini, the wonders of her new love Aristotle Onassis, the abortion that ended the relationship, the loss of voice that ended the career, and the heart break of ending up alone. Playwright Terrence McNally takes the audience on a journey that not only lets all who attend see the genius behind her voice but also her life’s journey on how she got to where she is.
Tyne Daly proves why she is considered one of the best actresses of this decade. Known for both her work in film (Zoot Suit), television (Judging Amy), and stage (Rabbit Hole), Daly brings a whole new meaning to the word “diva” when taking on the role of Callas. Daly commands the stage with every line she speaks and movement she makes – the audience cannot help but want to listen to every line that she says. Virtually unrecognizable under the make-up and wig, Daly transforms into the opera superstar. In a role that wings from humor to drama, she tackles it all with ease and sophistication. One cannot help but feel like the other actors on stage with her are receiving a master class within Master Class – it is hard to imagine not learning from a woman who has mastered her craft in a way that so few others have been able to do. These fellow players are Alexandra Silber (West End’s The Woman in White), Sierra Boggess (Disney’s The Little Mermaid), and Garrett Sorenson (national opera performer making his Broadway debut). Silber gives a lovely performance as Sophie De Palma – a young performer intent on learning from one of the world’s best. Silber has a lightness to her that is wonderful to watch. She is so passionate and heartfelt that the audience has no choice but to fall in love with her character. Boggess pulls out all of the stops with gorgeous opera and acting chops. Playing Sharon Graham – a strong singer with a weak heart, Boggess portrays the exact opposite of what Callas would consider a “performer.” Her work with Daly leaves the audience speechless as they battle what it truly means to be a world renowned performer. The last of the three students is Anthony Candolino, played by Sorenson. While only in the piece for a short time, Sorenson sends chills through the audience as he performs a piece that could turn opera-haters into opera-lovers. This piece, driven by Daly, mixes music, drama, and comedy into one extremely compelling night at the theatre.
Behind all great successes stands the creative team – or “those that I seem to always forget about” as Callas might think. Making his Broadway debut, director Stephen Wadsworth does a remarkable job giving life to this classic piece. Wadsworth tackles long monologues and scenes with grace and perfect movement – never letting the piece drag along. Creating wonderful images of Callas and her students, this is definitely a successful run for a Broadway newcomer. Thomas Lynch (Tony nominee for Contact) brings his scenic design talents to the project creating a simple, yet detailed set. With the simple interior of a rehearsal room, Lynch uses natural woods to create a back drop that is accented by golden stage lights hanging directly above the actors – thus creating one of the most elegant class rooms fit for an opera superstar. Illuminating this design is the work of David Lander (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo). While the piece tended to be a little too dark in some sections, the lighting overall was well done and done in a creative way – always having Callas lit just a little bit brighter than everyone else on stage. These details in direction and design gave this piece even more power – making it the perfect summer revival.
“Never miss an opportunity to theatricalize” – these words spoken by Callas in Master Class sum up the entire production perfectly. With grace and classiness, this wonderful play has come back to Broadway is a way that is hard to resist. Now playing throughout the entire summer, one has no excuse not to go see Tyne Daly and the rest of this spellbinding cast. It is the perfect master class on how real theatre should be!