by Dwight Casimere
In New Orleans, especially in the French Quarter, wine and food are not only the ‘national pastime,’ they’re a passion. They not only enjoy them 24/7, they write musicals about them. Wine Lovers, the first ever wine tasting musical returned to New Orleans for a limited engagement at its theatrical home, Le Petit Theatre, Muriel’s Cabaret on historic Jackson Square. Held in conjunction with the 2010 New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, the play incorporates elements of musical theatre with an actual wine tasting experienced by the audience and led by a singing sommelier.
The interactive show is a collaboration of internationally acclaimed wine writer Michael Green and local New Orleans singer/songwriter Gary Negbaur and is directed by Holly-Anne Ruggiero, who has worked on the Tony Award-winning New York production of Jersey Boys.
Audience members are immediately brought into the action and storyline by participating in a ‘wine tasting’ led by the show’s narrator and lead singer, Jamie Wax. They are seated at tables containing and array of red and white wines in numbered glasses and are asked by the narrator/singer to participate in a wine class led by the mythical sommelier, Charles Thompson. Thompson’s sole mission in life is to rhapsodize about the joys of drinking wine and to pass his enthusiasm and expertise on to others. He gloms on to a pair of mismatched would-be lovers, Brian, an idealistic painter(P.J. McKinnie), and Katherine(Jennifer Schemke), a know-it-all, no nonsense businesswoman. The two are about as compatible as a rip roaring Zinfandel and a delicate Souffle! Over the course of 70 minutes of singing and dancing, Thompson attempts to spark some chemistry between the two while singing the joys of drinking Chardonnay, Cabernet, Savignon Blanc, Semillion and Merlot.
“The original concept came out of the inherent theatricality of a wine class, and the reasons why people attend such a class,” Green, a long time participant and seminar panelist of the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience said of the musical. “Wine is such a romantic beverage that turning a wine tasting into a musical love story just felt natural.”
The score, a collaboration of Green and Negbaur, with book by Travis Kramer, skewers wine snobs and tired conventions. There’s even a number dedicated to the controversy over the use of screwcaps in wine bottling.
The wines are all donated by Muriel’s Jackson Square restaurant owners Rick and Cherie Gratia and include a selection of Barossa Valley Semillion, 2006 ($13.99 retail), by legendary Australian winemaker Peter Lehmann, who Dwight The Wine Doctor had the pleasure of visiting at his estate in the Barossa last year and additional wines, including Hess Select Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County, California 2008 ($13.99 retail)and Poema Cava Brut($11.98 retail), an intriguing Spanish sparkler.
The tasting/musical also included Muriel’s own private label, Jackson Square Merlot, Chalk Hill 2007($38), Napa Valley Chardonnay, 2009($38) and Napa Valley Cabernet 2007($38), all available at the restaurant on their wine list, which offers over 300 bottles from around the world.
“Theatre people love to have a drink, particularly a glass of wine, either before or after a show or at intermission,” director Holly-Anne Ruggiero said of the concept. “Its great to be able to combine those two elements into a single experience.”
Drinking the selection of highly approachable wines and listening to the performers go through their paces was a perfect way to spend an afternoon. As one who loves music and who also loves good wine, it was a match made in heaven!