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‘Master Class’ star rises to Maria Callas’ level

MariCallas (Kelli Harrington) is unimpressed by student Tony (KevR. Siembor) Theo Ubique’s producti“Master Class.”  | Adam Veness

Maria Callas (Kelli Harrington) is unimpressed by student Tony (Kevin R. Siembor) in Theo Ubique’s production of “Master Class.” | Adam Veness

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Highly recommended

When: Through Nov. 24

Where: Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, 6970 N. Glenwood

Tickets : $25-$59

Info: (800) 595-4849;

Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission

Updated: April 14, 2014 4:49PM

Bravissimo! There simply is no more fitting word with which to respond to Kelli Harrington’s tour de force performance as opera diva Maria Callas in “Master Class.” In a genuine star turn, Harrington not only keeps you riveted, but comes close to suggesting the ghost of the legendary singer has returned, and is holding forth at the Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, a tiny storefront in Rogers Park.

Terrence McNally’s 1996 Tony Award-winning play, expertly directed here by Fred Anzevino, is a marvel, too. Inspired by a series of master classes the fabled Callas gave at the Juilliard School of Music in 1971, McNally, a passionate fan of opera, gives us an intriguing dual portrait of the notorious artist. We see her as both the fiery believer in the divinity of art, and as the deeply troubled narcissist whose adoration by her audience never fully compensated for her feeling of being unloved by the man she loved most.

“This is not about me,” Callas proclaims as she arrives on stage. But of course it is all about her — her impoverished wartime youth in Greece; her years of feeling fat and unattractive before emerging as a supremely glamorous swan, and her marriage to Giovanni Meneghini, the older industrialist who adored and supported her, but whose heart she broke to become involved with Aristotle Onassis, who treated her like dirt and dumped her for Jackie Kennedy.

But alongside all the psychodrama is her fervent devotion to the art, and her belief that opera demands performers with dramatic powers every bit as formidable as their vocal skills.

After she banters with Manny, the piano accompanist for the classes (winningly played by music director Jeremy Ramey), and demands all the little attentions any diva might require, three students, played ideally by vocal powerhouses Rachel Klippel (as Sophie), Kevin R. Siembor (as Tony) and Ashlee Hardgrave (as Sharon), take turns being demolished. Each of them falls short in Callas’ eyes as they hit the notes of hugely difficult arias from (respectively) Bellini’s “La Sonnambula,” Puccini’s “Tosca” and Verdi’s “Macbeth” but fail to go deeper, and lack the stage presence for which Callas was so renowned.

A destroyer rather than a nurturer, she ruthlessly batters their egos. She respects only those who can take a beating.

With her broad, beautiful face and mesmerizing eyes, Harrington (who starred in Theo Ubique’s “The Light in the Piazza” and “Aspects of Love”), not only transforms herself into a dead ringer for Callas at her most alluring, but is so convincing — acidly funny, self-lacerating, confessional — you forget she is playing a role. And of course that is precisely what Callas herself did on stage.


Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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