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Master Class at the Las Vegas Little Theatre
Die-hard opera aficianados are, of course, exceedingly familiar with the career of the legendary Maria Callas, but even the most casual fan knows the bare outlines of her life: Callas was a big star who had a fling with Aristotle Onassis, who went on to marry Jacqueline Kennedy. End of story, right?

Oh, no. The woman known as La Divina was much more than this. A poor, overweight Greek girl with amazing talent, Callas turned the world of opera on its ear with her unusual voice and innovative interpretations. She married one man to help her career, then left him for a rich businessman (Onassis) who had no understanding or appreciation of her work. She shocked the public with this affair while making headlines with her performances in the world's most prestigious opera houses. When the affair ended in marriage--that is, Onassis's marriage to Kennedy--Callas was emotionally destroyed, left with almost no career and few friends.

Terrence McNally's Master Class is set during this difficult time of the diva's life. Over a two-year period, Callas taught 24 master classes at the Julliard School of Music in New York. Twenty-six students per class would endure her ridicule, criticism, and occasional praise before an audience of nearly 300. It is one of these classes that McNally fictionally recreates for the stage. Las Vegas Little Theatre, far from the grandiose stages on which Callas performed on (though only a stone's throw from the Vegas strip), has taken on the task of mounting McNally's daunting play.

Director Paul Thorton couldn't have better chosen his star. Not only does Nerissa Tedesco physically resemble Callas, she also allows the star's infamous personality to come shining through. Whether scolding a student or vividly recounting her lost days, Tedesco seems to inhabit the diva body and soul.

Though the actors on the whole seemed to be lacking specific direction, Joseph L. Cottone offers a beautifully understated characterization of Manny, the piano accompanist who is forced to follow La Divina's whims. The other supporting players, Caryn Wheeler (Sophie) and Joe Wheeler (Tony), perform as though they were in a sitcom and expect the laugh track to kick in at any moment. But Kimberly Dawn Fowler absolutely steals the show as Sharon; at the performance I attended, the entire audience was taken aback when this petite actress let lose a sound that belied her diminutive figure. (It almost seemed a shame to stop her singing when Maria went into yet another flashback.)

McNally is a life-long Callas devotee, and this play is no doubt intended as an hommage; but while the playwright does manage to convey the diva's wit and energy, some of the more subtle but crucial references in the text will be lost on the average theatregoer. In the end, LVLT's production is an adequate production of a mediocre work.

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