Review: Goodman Theatre’s Matchbox Magic Flute Is a Tiny Enchantment

Great works of art come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, they are vast and sweeping, like the Sistine Chapel or Anna Karenina; and sometimes they are tiny, like a Fabergé egg or a Dickinson couplet. And sometimes, they are like Mary Zimmerman's exquisite little production, The Matchbox Magic Flute, now playing at the Goodman Theatre, on its smaller Owen Theater stage.

And that's where, if you are fortunate enough to get seats amid the sell-out crowd, you will have the intimate pleasure of seeing Zimmerman's latest delicate triumph, in which she joins Mozart's genius to her own and creates a miniature world of wonders. Just five musicians (dressed in fanciful costume), only ten cast members (some juggling multiple roles), on a tiny stage (framed as half storybook and half Viennese confection)—this Matchbox Magic Flute casts a far more powerful spell than many larger productions.

Tina Muñoz Pandya, Lauren Molina, Monica West, Russell Mernagh (standing) and Billy Rude (on ground). Photo by Liz Lauren.

A literal fairy tale—the show begins with the entrance of a Sprite (magically played by Reese Parish), who begins the story with three taps of her wand and summons the other characters to populate a pop-up-book world of magical forests, mysterious castles, fearsome dragons, a kidnapped princess, a heroic prince and, perhaps best of all, a bird-catcher who is part cuckoo-bird himself. But the real guiding spirit of this production is Zimmerman, who, Chicago audiences know, possesses more than her share of creative magic.

She has excellent ingredients for her spell. Billy Rude, as the noble Prince Tamino, is a gorgeously costumed matinee idol with a voice to match. He is paired with Marlene Fernandez as the captive Princess Pamina, whose rich soprano enchants the audience. And, speaking of sopranos, Emily Rohm, as the wicked Queen of the Night, absolutely dominates the stage in the role's signature second act aria, "Der Hölle Rache."

Russell Mernagh, Keanon Kyles (back), Billy Rude and Marlene Fernandez (front). Photo by Liz Lauren

Everyone in the show is excellent, but Shawn Pfautsch, as comic foil bird-catcher Papageno, and Lauren Molina, his equally daffy lovebird Papagena, steal every scene they are in—as, indeed, Mozart intended.

Zimmerman's inventive direction and libretto (she adapted the production's English language script) is joined by gorgeous costume design by Ana Kuzmancik and delightful storybook set design by Todd Rosenthal. The musicians, under the leadership of Amanda Dehnert, enjoy the opportunity to appear on stage from time to time, and flawlessly perform Mozart's whimsical score.

This production, more of an operetta than a full-blown opera, serves as both an excellent introduction to Mozart and Mary Zimmerman's talent. It plays through March 24 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn. Tickets are available at www.goodmantheatre.org. The show runs two hours with one intermission.

For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.

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Doug Mose

Doug Mose grew up on a farm in western Illinois, and moved to the big city to go to grad school. He lives with his husband Jim in Printers Row. When he’s not writing for Third Coast Review, Doug works as a business writer.