“Joyful Noise” at Taproot Theatre

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Kevin Pitman, Molli Corcoran, William Kumma, Jim Gall, Allison Standley, Pam Nolte and Chris Shea in Joyful Noise at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

The joyful noise that this theatre piece concerns is George Frederick Handel’s “Messiah,” one of the most beloved and best-known musical works in Western culture. While so many of us have sung part or all of it at some time in our lives and so many others have enjoyed its music, I’d be willing to guess that few of us know the furor that accompanied its first presentation in London in the 18th Century. That furor is the fascinating tale that plays out right now on Taproot’s stage.

Handel was considered one of Europe’s leading composers in the early to mid 18th Century, and the English king, George II, especially revered him. German George, of Hanover descent, had a special fondness for all things German and couldn’t wait to hear Handel’s new oratorio that was scheduled to open in one of London’s most popular theatres.

Ah! But he hadn’t taken into account the furor it’s upcoming presentation raised within the church. The leading clergy considered it blasphemous that a religious work would be presented in a theatre. Theatres were places of bawdy, funny, somewhat lewd performances, not holy venues. The church hierarchy was determined to stop the show before it began. Not only was the venue inappropriate, but also the featured contralto, though a brilliant soloist, had a scandalous past.

Director Scott Nolte has assembled an outstanding cast in this tale of church vs. state, professional jealousy, genius, heartbreak, and ultimately triumph. There’s not a weak member on stage. I especially loved the wonderful German accent and wry mannerisms of Frank Lawler as King George. Jim Gall as Handel gave his character all the dignity, stature, and emotional turmoil the part demanded. Molli Corcoran and Allison Standley as feuding singers brought angelic voices to the production as well as fierce competitiveness.

Pam Nolte excels at playing English dowagers or busybodies. Here she was a bit of both. William Kumma as the Bishop who is determined to force the king to cancel the presentation has all the smarminess the part demands.

And if you love the elaborate, sumptuous dress of the early 18th Century, you’ll love Nanette Acosta’s costumes.

Lush! That’s a good word for this production.

Through Oct. 22 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206 781-9707 or Taproottheatre.org).

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