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Theatre Raleigh’s Master Class Is First-Class Entertainment! We Were Blown Away!

Judy McLane stars as "La Divina" Maria Callas in <em>Master Class</em> (photo by Jennifer Griffin Robertson)

Judy McLane stars as “La Divina” Maria Callas in Master Class (photo by Jennifer Griffin Robertson)

Some of the most intriguing art is “about art,”
and this play is a shining example.

Under Ray Dooley’s direction, Theatre Raleigh’s production of Terrence McNally’s Master Class is first-class entertainment. What we are treated to is two hours in a representative, yet fictionalized, day-in-the-life session of a voice class.

But this is not just any voice class; it is a class taught by a retired opera singer who had been so accomplished and so famous that she earned the nickname “La Divina,” as well as so eccentric and so interesting that her classes attract huge, paying audiences. And we, the audience at this play, have been cast in the role of the audience at the class, looking on as Maria Callas coaches three students (to whom she refers as “victims”).

Callas is strict and unrelenting. She is charismatic and sarcastic. She is rude and demanding. She is dedicated to her art, and she insists on instilling such a dedication in the hearts and minds of her students. Furthermore, she is haunted by details from her past.

And we could not imagine a more perfect performance of this role. Judy McLane (as Callas) takes the audience into her confidence and works her way into our hearts as the character shares her wisdom and insights concerning the art of being (and becoming) a professional opera singer. McLane has a nonstop twinkle in her eye that is every bit as hypnotic as the words she speaks (and the way she speaks them). We could not help but think that McLane had thoroughly internalized every tenet of Callas’ teachings about performing opera and applied them to her own approach to acting.

  • “It’s important to have a look.”
  • “The theatre isn’t about trying.”
  • “Stage, theatre are sacred places.”
  • “An entrance is everything.”
  • “Use imagination … otherwise it is nothing but notes.”
  • “Sink to the gutter in order to rise to the stars.”
  • “There are no shortcuts in art.”
Master Class stars Jason Karn and Judy McLane (photo by Jennifer Griffin Robertson)

Master Class stars Jason Karn and Judy McLane (photo by Jennifer Griffin Robertson)

As mesmerizing as her portrayal of Callas is as she interacts with her students, with her accompanist, and with her audience, Judy McLane is at least as captivating when her character becomes immersed in her past. In one episode of these musings, she deftly brings to life her memories of conversations with her former lover Aristotle Onassis, recreating the vulnerability of her past self and effortlessly switching to the crass arrogance of Onassis and back again.

As Manny, Callas’ accompanist, Tom Beard earns major kudos, both for his piano accompaniment and for his ability to create a perfect onstage persona for the character. In addition, he just pain “looks the part.”

Terrence McNally has chosen to show Callas’ interactions with three different students. Alana Sealy, as Sophie, plays her role with aplomb. The character is nervous and confused but willing to “try.” Sealy makes us experience the depths of her intimidation as she feels bullied.

Jason Karn’s Tony seems smug at first, but is easily rattled. The character (as well as the actor) is obviously talented — the piece that he sang elicited strong applause from the audience. As good as the initial part of Tony’s singing was, Karn managed to create the impression that Tony’s performance of this piece was steadily improving in response to the comments and coaching that Callas uttered in the background.

Callas’ third student is Sharon (Juliana Valente). Her reactions to Callas’ heavy-handed method of instruction are certainly understandable, and Valente gives a steady (and believable) portrayal of Sharon’s metamorphosis. And Liam Yates rounds out the cast as the Stagehand. He is respectful, but unimpressed by Callas and her bravado.

Judy McLane (right), Tom Beard, and Juliana Valente play Maria Callas, Manny, and Sharon in Theatre Raleigh's Aug. 8-12 and 15-19 production of Master Class (photo by Jennifer Griffin Robertson)

Judy McLane (right), Tom Beard, and Juliana Valente play Maria Callas, Manny, and Sharon in Theatre Raleigh‘s Aug. 8-12 and 15-19 production of Master Class (photo by Jennifer Griffin Robertson)

Scenic designer Chris Bernier has created an authentic looking studio for this class. We were impressed by the intricate texturing of the walls.

Erich R. Keil’s lighting design effectively enhances the mood as the scene shifts from real to surreal and back as well as to different “stages” of “real.” And the transformation of this present-day studio to a days-gone-by opera house is a real tour de force.

Sound designer Eric Alexander Collins has also conjured up recordings of Callas’ performances that mesh beautifully into the memory sequences. And Sarah McCabe’s costume designs put us firmly in the early 1970s and fittingly delineated the characters.

Master Class is the final production of Theatre Raleigh’s 2018 summer series. There are five remaining performances: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 16th and 17th; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18th; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19th. We were seriously blown away! Catch Master Class while you still can!

Judy McLane stars as Maria Callas in Master Class (photo by Jennifer Griffin Robertson)

Judy McLane stars as Maria Callas in Master Class (photo by Jennifer Griffin Robertson)

SECOND OPINION: Aug. 15th Raleigh, NC Chatham Life & Style review by Dustin K. Britt (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars):; Aug. 14th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): and Aug. 8th mini-preview by Byron Woods:; Aug. 11th Raleigh, NC Raleigh BWW Review by Lauren Van Hemert:, Aug. 5 BWW Interview with Judy McLane, who plays Maria Callas, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert:, and July 23rd prevew by BWW News Desk:; Aug. 9th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks:; Aug. 10th Raleigh, NC Talkin’ Broadway: Raleigh/Durham review by Garrett Southerland:; Aug. 4th Raleigh, NC Spectrum Central NC In-Depth interview with actress Judy McLane, who plays Maria Callas, conducted by Nick LaGrange:; and July 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Aug. 10th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click

Theatre Raleigh presents MASTER CLASS, starring Judy McLane and directed by Ray Dooley, at 8 p.m. Aug. 16 and 17, 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 18, and 3 p.m. Aug. 19 in the in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theatre in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $32 ($30 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).

BOX OFFICE: 919-832-9997,, or

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-832-9997 or









Master Class (1995 Broadway play): (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

The Script: (Google Books).

Terrence McNally (playwright): (official website), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Ray Dooley (Chapel Hill, NC director, PlayMakers Repertory Company member, professor of acting in the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Dramatic Art, and head of UNC’s Professional Actor Training Program): (PlayMakers Rep bio), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), (Twitter page), and (Wikipedia).


A native of North Carolina, Yvette L. Holder has studied theater at three institutions: the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute (New York), and N.C. Central University, where she received a BA in Dramatic Arts. Yvette also promotes and produces comedy theater, as well as working with playwrights around the country during the development stage of their work. She hosts a monthly play reading session: “Sips and Scripts” at Imurj in downtown Raleigh. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read Yvette and Kurt’s reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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