Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

Master Class
Theatre Raleigh
Review by Garrett Southerland

Also see Garrett's review of The Book of Mormon

Alana Sealy, Tom Beard, and Judy McLane
Photo by Jennifer Robertson
Fame is a fickle friend who goes just as easily as it came. Film stars, athletic figures, and even singers see their popularity wane as their looks change, their bodies slow down, or their voices age. What is to be done? To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, those who cannot do, teach. Whether you subscribe to this philosophy or not, that is exactly what renowned opera singer Maria Callas did in her later years, giving a series of master classes at the Juilliard School in New York. This true story serves as the basis for Terrance McNally's Tony-winning play Master Class, playing at the Kennedy Theatre at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium through August 19.

The play is set in the early 1970s and consists of Callas (a commanding Judy McLane) providing her expertise to three highly talented students: the shy Sophie (Alana Sealy), the self-assured Tony (Jason Karn), and the soft-hearted Sharon (Juliana Valente). All are accompanied by the quiet yet accomplished pianist Manny (Tom Beard). But the audience is a part of this play as well, serving as acknowledged participants in the class. Always the consummate performer, Ms. Callas speaks to us as much as, if not more than, she does to her students on stage. And though she adamantly tells her pupils that these classes are not about her, it's pretty clear that they are. Over the course of these lessons, we learn much about the technique of singing and the intricacies of the music and lyrics, but we learn even more about the woman herself as she reminisces on her past accomplishments and failings.

Directed by PlayMakers (at UNC Chapel Hill) regular Ray Dooley, this production remains squarely focused on the characters, and Callas specifically. Costumes by Sarah McCabe are period-perfect, signalling immediately the era in which these encounters take place. Scenic design by Chris Bernier is simple but strong, evoking a theatre stage at Juilliard. Lighting design by Erich R. Keil provides wonderful dramatic effect, effectively signaling the shifts away from the present and into Callas's memory. The use of projections at the end of the first act adds a ghostlike quality that reminded me of Sondheim's ultimate memory musical, Follies.

Judy McLane is no stranger to Theatre Raleigh, having starred in a couple of its past productions. She also has appeared on Broadway in several musicals, including playing the characters of Donna and Tanya in over 4,000 performances of Mamma Mia!. And she truly embodies Maria Callas. Unsurprisingly, it is Ms. McLane's performance that must carry this production, and that is a tall order since she rarely leaves the stage for the two-hour duration of the show. Though she flubbed some lines at the performance I attended, I found that easy to excuse because the heart of the character never faltered. McLane, like Callas, knows how to win an audience.

Alana Sealy, Jason Karn, and Juliana Valente deserve equal accolades for their beautiful classically trained voices. Tom Beard, as accompanist Manny, and Liam Yates, as a stagehand, lend valuable authenticity and grounding to the show.

Master Class culminates in an insightful monologue from Callas about sacrifices made in the name of art. She tells us, "There is no being at center stage as if by magic. There is always an entrance first, just as there is always an exit after," lending poignant insight into her own career.

Theatre Raleigh's Master Class, through August 19, 2018, at the Kennedy Theatre, Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, 2 East South St., Raleigh NC. Tickets can be purchased online at or by phone at 919-832-9997.

Direction: Ray Dooley
Scenic Design: Chris Bernier
Sound Design: Eric Collins
Lighting Design: Erich R. Keil
Property Design: Zachery Rayburn

Maria Callas: Judy McLane
Sophie: Alana Sealy
Sharon: Juliana Valente
Tony: Jason Karn
Manny/Pianist: Tom Beard
Stage Hand: Liam Yates