Of all the leading ladies I've seen as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's Master Class Zoe Caldwell, Patti LuPone, and Dixie Carter in the original 1995 Broadway production, and now Tyne Daly in the current Manhattan Theatre Club revival Daly bears perhaps the least physical resemblance to the legendary opera singer. Yet her Callas is nothing less than compelling, from the moment she sweeps on stage in her well-tailored black pantsuit and expounds upon the importance of having ''a look.'' (Peering out at an audience member: ''You. Yes, you. And don't take this personally. You don't have a look.... Get one. As quickly as possible.'') She's especially captivating during flashback sequences in which a vulnerable Maria virtually begs for the love of a very crude Aristotle Onassis (also played by Daly).
McNally's well-crafted, quip-filled drama which depicts Callas teaching at Juilliard, circa 1971 (her voice was virtually destroyed by then) is less a biography and more a love letter to La Divina. So who knows if she really made a singer puke before the poor girl performed Lady Macbeth's letter scene in the Verdi opera, or if Ari actually spoke about his ''big thick uncircumcised Greek d---''? Incidentally, the soprano with the shaky stomach is played by Sierra Boggess best known as Broadway's original Little Mermaid who reveals a lovely vibrato but a surprising lack of stage presence; as for the other students, Alexandra Silber is sweetly endearing as the self-professed ''fiery'' soprano who, poor thing, doesn't have a look, and Garrett Sorenson is splendid as the cocky tenor doing Cavaradossi's aria from Tosca.
Potential ticket buyers, take note: While the playwright is a major opera aficionado, he's no opera snob. No knowledge of the art form is necessary to enjoy Master Class. But don't be surprised if you get the urge to pick up a Callas CD afterward. B+
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)