Ashland 2017: The Merry Wives of Windsor

When the strongest elements of a given show are the high-powered rock musical production numbers, you don’t usually have a problem…

…unless your show isn’t actually a musical.

This is the trouble with OSF’s Merry Wives of Windsor, and it’s frustrating.  One really wants to like a production that goes all out with the 1980s girl-powered rock vibe — loud, colorful, yet not quite so ear-blasting that the sheer sense of fun gets lost in the background noise.

But the best thing about Merry Wives is supposed to be one Sir John Falstaff, and K. T. Vogt’s Falstaff very nearly fades into the background against all the music-and-dance pyrotechnics.  It isn’t enough simply for Falstaff to play the rogue here — one needs the oversized knight to draw the eyes and hearts of the audience even though he’s being bested left, right, and sideways by the Mistresses Page and Ford.  And Vogt — at least on the night we saw the play — just doesn’t pull this off.  The show belongs entirely to Vilma Silva and Amy Newman as the title wives, with energetic assistance from Jamie Ann Romero as young Anne Page and William de Merritt as her earnest suitor Fenton.

It’s not even clear whether Vogt means her portrayal of Falstaff to be male as the production notes suggest, including a photo where she’s wearing a mustache not present on the night we attended.  Clad in nondescript browns and tans, Vogt comes across as androgynous at best, and that runs sharply counter to the decidedly aggressive romantic intentions Falstaff’s dialogue attempts to establish.  The energy needed simply isn’t there — rather, Vogt comes across as a particularly sad Elmer Fudd in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, without even Yosemite Sam’s fierceness or Daffy Duck’s acerbic snark.  Audiences might understandably be forgiven for wondering, like Marvin the Martian, “Where’s the KABOOM?  There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering KABOOM!”

At the end of the night, there’s some cause for the wives of Windsor to be merry; Silva, Newman, and Romero do their best to carry the play by themselves, and the energy of the musical numbers comes close to letting them succeed.  But this production of Merry Wives falters badly when compared either to prior OSF iterations of the play or to most of its sister shows in the 2017 season.

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