A Message from the Director of Arizona Lady, Matthew Ozawa
What happens when you combine a horse, two love stories, two races, three nationalities, Vaudeville, one horse thief, the Tucson Rodeo, musical theater, prohibition, comedy, a square dance, a colorful cast of characters, and a brilliant mix of musical styles? You get a wild operetta called Arizona Lady, by Emmerich Kálmán! Kálmán was known for making people laugh through their tears. Arizona Lady, hislast operetta, which premiered over a year after his death, is a true testament to a man who deeply understood the pain and joy of life.
Born in 1882 Hungary, Kálmán had great success as one of the leading composers of Viennese operetta during the first quarter of the 20th centur y. His work was seen all over Europe and on Broadway. Despite his artistic success, he faced much loss, having lived through two world wars, fleeing to America after the annexation of Austria and losing his two younger sisters who were Jewish slave laborer s during WWI I. His moods oscillated between the poles of melancholy and happiness in his personal life, and these fluctuations in mood became reflected in his compositions – compositions that defied definition and pushed
the boundaries of the operetta genre.
What makes directing a Kálmán operetta so unbelievably exhilarating is uncovering the tightrope his works walk between heartfelt comedy and pathos, and madness. Kálmán always aimed for grand dramatic impact and theatrical effect, despite writing for a genre that represented the latest trends in popular music.
Operetta became a global epidemic, and Arizona Lady is a perfect example of this craze. It features an array of musical styles from waltz to Hungarian melodies, Broadway (notice the riff on Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!) to Vaudeville. However, what makes Arizona Lady so unique is the confluence of Southwest
American, Mexican and European cultures found within its story. As a result, Kathleen Kelly has adapted the material in a radically modern way, enabling characters to sing and speak in their respective languages of German, English, and Spanish.
So when I looked at the score and libretto to investigate how I would approach the material, I instantly felt a kinship to the piece, not only because of my diverse interdisciplinary artistic background, but also because I’m of mixed race, have lived abroad, and have always been surrounded by a multicultural landscape.
After taking history, style and story into consideration, it seemed best to parallel the diversity by drawing upon an array of directing tools and styles which would most effectively bring this operetta to life. The foundation for the scenic design is drawn from a Vaudeville theater in 1925. Painted drops, rolling set pieces,
footlights, and mechanical horses heighten this theatrical world. In juxtaposition, the costumes are more realistic, based on historic photos, and reflective of the various cultures and clothing styles found in Arizona in the 1920s. Lastly, it felt best to add pizzazz with the inclusion of musical theater choreography, zippy comedic dialogue, and tenderly earnest, romantic scenes. In case you were wondering, Arizona Lady, the horse, will indeed appear on stage!
Ultimately, this smorgasbord captures Kálmán’s passions, creating a delightful and riveting theatrical journey unlike any other. Yes, the work is a love story that highlights female strength, but it is also a direct reflection of modern America, underscoring the idea that we need to work together to live in peace. Arizona Lady binds us in a beautiful shared adventure, and boldly celebrates our commonalities and uniqueness through music, story, and dance.