Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Last Savage,” where have you been all my life?
This witty, wonderful look at midcentury life offers hilarious takes on Igor Stravinsky, Allen Ginsberg, pretension of all sorts, rich daddies and much, much more, along with the opportunity to laugh nonstop for two solid acts.
A wealthy American businessman whose daughter won’t marry until she finds “the last savage” and can finish her doctoral dissertation in anthropology, a beyond-wealthy Indian maharajah who wants to marry off his only son, a maharani with a secret, a smart-cookie servant and her simple boyfriend all come together in a plot that explodes with comedy — and satire.
Director Ned Canty invested all of it with a deliciously well-tuned camp sensibility, from the light-footed fakirs to the “savage” Abdul’s King Kong moment, a trio of fey designers and assorted Doris Day-Rock Hudson-style interactions for the romantic leads.
The standouts in the large cast were soprano Anna Christy (Beauty in OTSL’s 2005 “Beauty and the Beast”) as the prone-to-attacks-of-severe-coloratura anthropologist Kitty and muscular Daniel Okulitch (Willy Wonka in 2010’s “The Golden Ticket”) as Abdul, the “savage,” apparently recovered from last spring’s car accident. Both of them looked perfect for their roles, sang beautifully, and held the stage.
Mezzo Jamie Barton (assorted OTSL roles since 2007) was simply all-around wonderful as the Maharani; tenor Sean Pannikar (2010’s Lensky in “Eugene Onegin”) sang sweetly as her son, the spoiled Indian prince.
Soprano Jennifer Zetland has a clear lyric soprano, but didn't always carry well enough. Thomas Hammons was an appropriately world-weary (and clueless) Maharajah; Kevin Burdette played the part of the wealthy American Mr. Scattergood with a broad approach appropriate to the role and the production.
Conductor George Manahan gave Menotti’s lyrical score a lively reading. Sean Curran, who just directed "The Daughter of the Regiment" at OTSL, took care of the amusing choreography.
Opera Theatre of St. Louis favorite Allen Moyer designed fabulous sets and costumes, from Kitty's all-pink explorer ensemble — pith helmet to boots — to Abdul's wild-man getup and the Maharani's larger-than-life rig. Abdul and Kitty looked particularly fetching in their matching spotted-cat Tarzan-Jane outfits, complete with a fang on a string for him, and a headband for her. Just one lone quibble: Given the subcontinental setting, couldn't that African lion have been an Indian tiger instead?
"The Last Savage"