Middle-Eastern magic is on display at Chicago’s Chopin Theatre, and a husband-and-wife team from Forest Park has much to do with it. Kathryn Kamp is directing the current production of The Rose of Stambul that runs through July 31. Her husband Erich Buchholz does a witty turn as a suitor who can sing, dance and look willowy in a dress.
The well-received production was put on by Chicago Folks Operetta. The two leads are expertly played by Oak Parkers Gerald Frantzen and Kimberly McCord, wearing splendid costumes designed by Berwyn’s Kristine Fachet. Frantzen also assisted in translating the 85-year-old Viennese hit into English.
“Old jokes tend to be dated,” Buchholz said, “And these were jokes Germans didn’t get even at the time.” Frantzen and Hersh Glagov spent a year coming up with pun-filled dialogue and lyrics that rhymed in English. Buchholz gets to sing novelty numbers, like “Say Snookie to Me” and display his gift for physical comedy.
Buchholz has been appearing in CFO operettas for five years now. He also sings with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. In addition, he’s toured the US and Japan as part of a male vocal ensemble.
During Rose, Kamp can “Sit in the audience incognito and hear the audience laughing at different things.”
“It’s unique that we’re married,” Kamp continued, “We have to put aside our relationship during the production.” Fortunately, her husband is a delight to direct. “I like to see the actors create their own characters. As an audience member, I love when they use their personality and body-type to inhabit a role.”
Buchholz uses his persona and physicality to play a bumbling boyfriend. He also brings a fearless energy to the stage. This may be due in part to the martial arts training he’s received at Charatin’s karate school in Forest Park. “Martial arts help with dancing,” Buchholz said, “It gives you strength and body awareness.” It also builds up stamina, because “operetta can be a real workout.”
The LaGrange native started his voice training with the Lyons Township HS choir. He also starred in several musicals. After graduating, he enrolled in the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, in Oberlin, Ohio.
“It’s a pretty amazing school,” Buchholz said. Majoring in Voice Performance, he learned to sing in German, French and Italian, the languages of grand opera. “I have a voice for opera,” Buchholz said, “But opera takes itself too seriously. Operetta is more fun. I get to be a clown.”
No one got more laughs than Buchholz at a matinee performance of Rose last Sunday. Though it was a sunny afternoon, the place was packed. The intimate space was graced by a set right out of Scheherazade. It was soon filled with dancing harem girls. The outlandish plot involves Buchholz’s character seeking a suitable bride to produce a male heir, so he can win a lawsuit, while Frantzen somehow plays the romantic lead and his fiercest rival at the same time.
Kamp and Buchholz moved to Forest Park in 2007, though this is his second extended stay. “The Park is awesome,” Buchholz said, “And it’s only a 30-second walk from our house.” For her part, Kamp hopes to engage the Forest Park art and music community in future CFO productions.
For those who want to catch Rose in its final week, tickets can be ordered through chicagofolksoperetta.org.