McNally’s play fictionalizes a series of master classes that Callas gave at the Juilliard School in the 1970s. The audience is the class. On her entrance, the audience applauds. Callas basks in it before admonishing the “class” with “no applause.” Master Class is a witty play that captures the cantankerous diva post-career. She is full of wisdom to impart to these students yet seems to lack the patience for the role of teacher.
Daly’s Callas has been stylishly dressed in a black pantsuit (no, not the kind Hillary wears) by costume designer Martin Pakledinaz. Her gold jewelry catches the light and bounces it back out into the darkened theatre. Draped over one shoulder, an Hermes scarf, and in her hand an expensive handbag. She definitely has "a look." She tells her first student, Sophie DePalma, played with annoying earnestness by Alexandra Silber, that she is lacking a look. In one of many funny moments in this play, she singles out several audience members who she also deems look-less and tells them to get a look.
Her third student, Sharon Graham, played by Sierra Boggess is so unnerved by Callas that she has to leave the stage to throw up. This is the role Audra McDonald won a Tony for in the original Broadway production. Boggess originated the role of Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. After she composes herself, she comes back to take on La Divina with her performance of “Vienti! T’Affretta” from Verdi’s MacBeth.
The third student, Anthony Candolino, is played with cocksure confidence by Garrett Sorenson. His character flirts shamelessly with Callas to maximum effect. She hardly gives him any criticism and seems enamored of him. The way that Callas stares at him gives you the feeling that she is reliving a moment from her own past affair with Aristotle Onassis (who ultimately left her for Jackie Kennedy.) There are many moments in the play where Callas reminisces about past events. Daly handles these moments with startling clarity even when having to carry on both sides of a conversation with another character during a flashback scene. She snaps back into the moment each time with what becomes a familiar phrase, "that's another story."
Jeremy Cohen as Callas's accompaniest is an artful piano player and actor. Not even he can avoid Callas's barbs, nor her allure. I should also mention, all three actors, Alexandra Silber, Garrett Sorenson, and Sierra Boggess carry the vocal performances soundly.
Director Stephen Wadsworth has seemingly given Daly free range of the stage. She takes advantage of it and uses the full, mostly unencumbered stage. During the flashback scenes Thomas Lynch's scenery floats offstage, each time leaving Callas alone on a completely bare stage isolated in David Lander's moody lighting, a back-lit drop suggesting an opera house or MacBeth's castle is hung upstage. During these flashbacks a recording of the real Callas is played in the background.
Ms. Daly's performance is captivating and commanding, so don't miss it. This is a limited run. Master Class is being performed at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Broadway and has recently been extended through September 4, 2011.