Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Matchbox Magic Flute
Shakespeare Theatre Company Coverage by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's coverage of the 2024 Helen Hayes Awards and review of Metamorphoses

(foreground) Billy Rude and Marlene Fernandez, and
(rear) Russell Mernagh and Keanon Kyles

Photo by Liz Lauren
The Matchbox Magic Flute, now in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Klein Theatre in Washington, is an enchanting, scaled-down version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 1791 opera, sung in English and suitable for all ages. Director Mary Zimmerman, who also adapted the text from earlier translations, has created a seamless ensemble comprising 10 talented singing actors and an indefatigable five-piece band led by Laura Bergquist at the piano.

Zimmerman shows her respect for the original work in her reimagining of it: while some of the dialogue is amusingly contemporary, it is faithful to the authors' intentions, while Todd Rosenthal's scenic design places the action in a facsimile of an 18th-century theater complete with (fake) onstage boxes. The actors are responsible for shifting the scenery, with its two-dimensional trees and rotating panels that create a variety of backgrounds, and T.J. Gerckens' lighting design includes a lightning effect from the chandeliers suspended above the playing area. Similarly, the musicians–lit by flickering electric candles–join the actors in wearing era-appropriate costumes (designed by Ana Kuzmanic), complete with tall hats.

The story is a fable of darkness and light, love and ruthlessness, and the necessity of sacrifice. The autocratic Queen of the Night (Emily Rohm), awesome in her black gown that bleeds into red near the hem, enlists Tamino (Billy Rude), a traveling prince, to rescue her daughter Pamina (Marlene Fernandez) from the powerful lord Sarastro (Keanon Kyles). Tamino is assisted by three mysterious women in the forest (Lauren Molina, Tina Muñoz Pandya, Monica West), a silent, winged spirit (Reese Parish), and Papageno (Shawn Pfautsch), a sweet but lonely man with a bird's face.

The cast has no weak links. Rohm nails the Queen of the Night's famous second-act aria, Kyles makes Sarastro imposing without being overly threatening, and Pfautsch is a charmer, especially when Papageno too finds love.

Lest all of this sound either pretentious or just silly, understand that Zimmerman takes this story very seriously. The stakes are life and death; it's a mythic quest in a land populated by dancers in oversized animal heads, where Monostatos (Russell Mernagh), Pamina's jailer, is a humanoid creature with spinal protrusions and a monkey's tail. Both Sarastro and the Queen of the Night are immensely powerful, but with vastly different goals.

The Matchbox Magic Flute runs through June 16, 2024, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Klein Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or visit

Adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman
Based on the opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Music director: Amanda Dehnert
Produced in association with Goodman Theatre

Pamina: Marlene Fernandez
Sarastro: Keanon Kyles
Monostatos: Russell Mernagh
Papagena, Lady: Lauren Molina
Lady: Tina Muñoz Pandya
The Spirit: Reese Parish
Papageno: Shawn Pfautsch
Queen of the Night: Emily Rohm
Tamino: Billy Rude
Lady: Monica West