Through October 2
MARIA SEVERA Shaw Festival/Court House Theatre
Think of Lisbon as some think of that lonely crossroads in Mississippi and Robert Johnson or the alleys off Beale Street in Memphis or New Orleans' Storyville.
Lisbon's Mouraria is the home of fado, the haunting music of Portugal's poor people, living in the slums along the river and far below the homes of the rich people.
Not only is Jay Turvey and Paul Sportelli's “Maria Severa,” hung on the class distinctions between the rich high above and the poor far below, that's a personal relationship at the heart of the musical.
Borderline prostitute and performer in her mother’s decrepit bar Maria (Julie Martell) has fallen in love with a bullfighter, but the less violent Portuguese kind of bullfighter, Armondo de Vimioso (Mark Uhre), scion of a high-toned and impoverished noble family who lives in a deteriorating mansion high on the hill.
His mother, Constança de Vimioso (Sharry Flett), knows the only way to save the family is for Armondo to marry Clara da Silva (Jacqueline Thair) and bring her wealth into the family treasury.
She’s beautiful and vapid and under her family’s spell and perfectly aware Armondo doesn’t love her.
You can see all sorts of plot lines in the show and there really are too many here.
The basic plot is Maria working with guitarist Carlos (Jeff Irving) on the base of what becomes fado.
Carlos has been in love with her since Mama (Jenny L. Wright) brought the street orphan into her little family, as she adopted Jasmine (Sacha Dennis), fleeing tragedy in far-off Brazi, once a Portuguese colony.
Perhaps the only rational person in all of this is the most pointless part of the show, Neil Barclay’s Father Manuel.
He’s there to connect the two halves of Lisbon and show the split between rich and poor extends to the church as well as society, since he supports the poor while the bishop doesn’t.
I’ve heard little fado although my sister really likes it so I can’t be absolutely sure about the music Sportelli and Turvey have put into the show.
It’s probably about as authentic as some of the ethnic music in a lot of Broadway shows.
But, is it entertaining?
There are some really strong numbers on Judith Bowden’s economical set:
Maria’s “Between a Man and a Woman,” the company with “The Bullfighting Song,” Jasmine with “A Prayer is a Boat” and “Better than This” and Armondo and his dissolute brother Fernando (Jonathan Gould) with “It’s In the Blood.”
The Shaw Festival has spent a lot of time and resources over the years on this show and it still needs some work.
But, there’s enough of a story in “Maria Severa” to make a visit to the show worthwhile.
And, there are some really good production numbers and some strong performances from Martell, Uhre, Wright and Dennis.
I will have to find some fado music and see what Turvey and Sportelli saw in this tale of “Maria Severa.”
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