Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

Opera Las Vegas / Cockroach Theatre Company
Review by Mary LaFrance

Athena Mertes and Kimberly Gratland James
Photo by Richard Brusky
It's not often that a new opera comes along—or holds its West Coast premiere in Las Vegas. Thanks to a collaboration between Opera Las Vegas and Cockroach Theatre Company, that's exactly what is happening this month. And it's an event not to be missed.

Composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Royce Vavrek are the immensely gifted creators of 27, an enchanting opera about Gertrude Stein, her life partner Alice B. Toklas, and the years they spent hosting their famous salons for writers and artists at 27 rue de Fleurus, on Paris's Left Bank, during a period spanning two world wars. You don't have to be a die-hard opera fan to enjoy this musical confection. It is light and engaging while still thought-provoking. There is no doubt that Gertrude Stein (like her brother Leo) was an avid art collector, and she was certainly a unique and prolific writer. Was she also a genius? Mentor? Narcissist? Nazi collaborator? All of the above?

The talented cast of 27 not only sing beautifully, but have the acting talent to bring these characters vividly to life. As Gertrude Stein, mezzo soprano Kimberly Gratland James uses her radiant smile and piercing eyes to make the audience feel as special as the artists and authors Stein hosts—but, when crossed, she makes her displeasure palpable. Soprano Athena Mertes portrays Alice as a joyous, serene, and devoted life companion, one who is "always ready to slam the door" against anyone who displeases Gertrude, and who believes she can "slam the door to war" as well.

Tenor Jorge Ortiz shines in the dual roles of Picasso and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He projects an irresistible sweetness as Picasso and brings a deft comic touch to Fitzgerald's rivalry with Hemingway for Stein's attention. Bass-baritone Aaron Pendleton proves a worthy foil as the jealous Matisse and the domineering Hemingway. Baritone Brian James Myer demonstrates strong acting and vocal skills as Stein's brother Leo, an equally astute art collector, and as Man Ray, who yearns to be an artist and is devastated when Stein pronounces him a "photographer."

Director Daz Weller does some of his best work yet in this well-paced production, making effective use of the small multi-level stage and bringing out the singers' best acting skills. Doubling as set designer, Weller keeps it simple, allowing Li Harmon's beautiful and dynamic projections to set the mood.

The two-piano arrangement of Gordon's score is conducted by Ioannis Protopapas and sublimely performed by Spencer Baker and Barbara Buer.

27 is a special treat for Las Vegas. Catch it while you can.

27, through May 5, 2019, at the Art Square Theatre, 1025 S. 1st St., #110, Las Vegas NV. Remaining performances are Thursday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets ($25 general admission; $20 students and 55+) and further information, visit

Gertrude Stein: Kimberly Gratland James
Alice B. Toklas: Athena Mertes
Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald: Jorge Ortiz
Leo Stein, Man Ray: Brian James Myer
Henri Matisse, Ernest Hemingway: Aaron Pendleton

Additional Creative:
Costume Design: Rose Scarborough
Lighting Design: Amanda Valdez