Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Pirates of Penzance" till 28 February and "The (In)Compleat Works of Gilbert and Sullivan"**** till 22 February

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi

Having lived on a diet of anthems these past few months, I snapped up Gilbert & Sullivan’s THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE as fast as The Sudbury Savoyards could dish it out --- happily, much of their production is good and went down easily. … The Sudbury production is an honest loaf of bread; New England Light Opera’s THE (IN)COMPLEAT WORKS OF GILBERT AND SULLIVAN was an offered tray of petits fours and I devoured them as well.

"THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE"

book by W. S. Gilbert

music by Arthur Sullivan

directed by Emily C. A. Snyder

musical direction by Katherine Engel Meifert

Major-General Stanley … Tony Parkes
The Pirate King … Dennis O’Brien
Samuel … Ed Fell
Frederic … Ben Stevens
Sergeant of Police … James Thistlethwaite
Mabel … Kathy Lague
Edith … Sarah Telford
Kate … Gwenne Lopshire
Isabel … Nicole Foti
Ruth … Tambre Tarleton Knox

Chorus of Major-General Stanley’s Wards:

Deirdre Bergeron; Debbie Crane; Jess Daigneuit; Jennifer Dohm; Beth Galano; Cavalyn Galano; Marcia Goldensher; Beth Goldstein; Ruth Griesel; Cynthia Horn; Molly Johnson; Randi Kestin; Laurel Martin; June McKnight; Patricia McMahon; Lisa Meister; Karen Pierce; Karen Powers; Nancy Powers; Anne Rollins; Allie Sebeika; Julie Snyder; Ellen T. Spear; Suzanne White; Sara Williams; Marla Zucker

Chorus of Pirates and Police:

Russell Adams; David Baldwin; Randy Divinski; Beth Ducot; Meryl Eisenstein; Ken Gagne; Peter Gaunt; John Gorgone; Fred Hughes; Rollin Jeglum; Patrick Kinney; David Lopshire; Neil McCormick; Rich Olsen; David Owen; Roy Paro; Ezra Peisach; Matt Pierce; Jonathan Saul; John Snyder; Ted Sullivan; Erin VanSpeybroeck; Jay Woodruff; T. Skyler Wrench

Orchestra:

Conductor … Katherine Engel Meifert

Violin I … Alan Whitney (Concertmaster); Lois Whitney; Dorothy Linsner; Dwight Breen

Violin II … Sue Stone; Jerry Weene; Eric Chi; Jessica Merwin

Viola … Dale Hall; Jane Goodman; Mary Hecht

Cello … Elizabeth Kinney; Marsha Turin; Phil Naumann

Bass … Dawn Provost

Flute … Susan Caplan; Debbie Franks; Marianne Leonard

Oboe … Julia Gabaldon; Eileen Snyder

Clarinet … Beth Tringali; John Porter

Bassoon … Diane Zolnaski; Tony DeBruyn

Horn … Joeth Barlas; Molly Bergmann; Jeanne Paella

Trumpet … Jim Wallace; Bob Coviello

Trombone … James Nollet; Sam Reynolds

Percussion … Harry Woodell

Having lived on a diet of anthems these past few months, I snapped up Gilbert & Sullivan’s THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE as fast as The Sudbury Savoyards could dish it out --- happily, much of their production is good and went down easily. When reviewing community theatre, critical standards need not be lowered, necessarily, but one must keep in mind that many of its artists are not trained professionals (especially in dance and movement) and are onstage to give their families and friends a good time (“That’s my dad, up there!”) and to run some stardust through their fingers. Director Emily C. A. Snyder has much polishing to do in terms of making the amateur look good and the good, even better: on the night I attended, her large ensembles (60 bodies, in all) were ragged, especially in scenes where one group must hide in plain sight from another; her allowing/encouraging much upstaging and counter-upstaging resulted in frequent free-for-alls (there may simply be too many bodies up there, on the boards --- when they leave, ‘tis not an exit but an exodus), and she needs to rethink some of her smaller tableaus amidst the vastness of the Lincoln-Sudbury High School stage --- in Act Two, for example, Major-General Stanley sits alone, weeping, at extreme stage left; one of his daughters enters stage right and must jog across to comfort him. (The other daughters soon appear from all corners of the globe, in my mind’s theatre, they would emerge in a snake line from the Major-General’s wee Gothic tower like clowns popping out of a circus car.) Still, Ms. Snyder occasionally tweaks --- and pulls off --- the Victorian conventions that G&S themselves were sending up; i.e. the Major-General and the Pirate King sitting down to tea for their orphan-often exchange while the others hover breathlessly over them, or when Frederic and Mabel longingly reach out to each other as if across a chasm when only a few inches separate them; other bits, such as the Sergeant’s fussing with a turkey leg, might seem funny on paper but nowhere else. This PIRATES’ strength lies in its solid, direct singing and it passes two acid tests: “Hail Poetry”, sung a cappella, is superb, and the lovers’ extended duet --- “Stay, Frederic, Stay”/“Ah, leave me not to pine”/“Oh, here is love” --- is truly heartfelt; both passages are presented stock still for utmost effectiveness; if only Ms. Snyder could also apply this less-is-more approach elsewhere!

Among the leading players, Dennis O’Brien and Tambre Tarleton Knox are the most Savoyard-like as the Pirate King and his accomplice Ruth, each possessing the right mixture of ham and passion along with dashes of their own robust personalities; Ms. Knox is to be commended for not turning Ruth into a howling caricature as Mr. Gilbert’s amorous old maids tend to be played nowadays. Ben Stevens contributes a sweet, gangly Frederic in the Victorian mould ­ nothing of the twit or klutz about his hero, thank you ­ though his tenor has a tendency to bleat under pressure. Kathy Lague’s Mabel is, shall we say, of a certain age but tosses off her high notes as easily as her turning the pages of the book she sports about; unfortunately, she has been directed to be quite the shrew and it would be understandable if Mr. Steven’s Slave of Duty reconsidered Ms. Knox’s plump and pleasing person, after awhile. Tony Parkes makes a solemn, ghost-like Major-General (his patter song fails to ignite) and, despite his strapping physique, James Thistlethwaite bounces about amusingly like a painted French marionette. Among the choruses, the many, many daughters come off the best (they have the better music, for starters, and more facets to their group personality); the bumbling policemen simply bumble ­ their “When the Foreman Bares His Steel” is not quite the showstopper it is intended to be.

Katherine Engel Meifert conducts an orchestra that is a collection of instruments rather than a unified sound (the horns in the Overture were particularly sour); Andrea Roessler and Donna Roessler have designed some attractive storybook sets and costumes. Chris Carda’s lighting scheme, however, consists of flooding the stage with red, blue or green gels at key (and sometimes, inopportune) moments --- the results are garish, to say the least: Gilbert & Sullivan meets Expressionism.

"The Pirates of Penzance" (20 - 28 February)
THE SUDBURY SAVOYARDS
Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, SUDBURY, MA
1 (978) 443-8811

"THE (IN)COMPLEAT WORKS OF GILBERT AND SULLIVAN"

conceived by Mark Morgan and Peter A. Carey

directed by Peter A. Carey

musical direction by Mark Morgan

choreography by Ilyse Robbins

Sopranos:

Sol Kim Bentley
Mala Bhattacharya
Joei Marshall Perry
Kaja Schuppert
Erin Tchoukaleff
Krista Wilhelmsen

Mezzo Sopranos:

Andrea Coleman
Eugenia Hamilton
Angela Jajko

Tenors:

Jason McStoots
Brent Reno

Baritones:

Richard Conrad
Galen Hair
Ben Hellman
Daniel Kamalic
Sven Olbash
Mark Morgan
Brian Wagner

Accompanist … Karen Gahagan

The Sudbury production is an honest loaf of bread; New England Light Opera’s THE (IN)COMPLEAT WORKS OF GILBERT AND SULLIVAN was an offered tray of petits fours and I devoured them as well. Mark Morgan and Peter A. Carey selected solos, ensembles and dialogue from the G&S canon and set them in a simple but elegant drawing room where a butler (“Young Tenor”) and a maid (“Soprano”) ushered in numerous guests --- among them, “Character Baritone” and “Lady Mezzo” --- for an evening of Savoyard fun and games. Soprano was pursued by several admirers but ended up with her true love (no prizes for guessing who); the selected numbers, often pulled from a passed-around hat, advanced or commented on the commedia plot. Just as Scott Edmiston shaped each JACQUES BREL song into a mini-drama, the Messrs. Morgan and Carey and choreographer Ilyse Robbins did so, here, but in comic reverse and there were glorious moments: the men forming an impromptu ship; a round of musical chairs ending in a squeeze between winner and loser, etc.; as often happens, the loveliest image was also the simplest: Lady Mezzo sat alone, stage left, to dryly mourn her passing years while the others respectfully looked on from stage right. The singers entered into the material’s richness wholeheartedly (the variety of G&S’ music continues to amaze and dazzle); paradoxically, their being dressed to the nines assisted in capturing the Victorian frivolity needed to keep camp wolves from their door. The voices ranged from dry to juicy, from firm to wobbly; despite a tendency to go shrill in her upper register, Kaja Schuppert continues to be one of the Boston area’s musical delights, visually as well as aurally (I’m still stamping my feet for her Little Mary Sunshine) and she was ideally paired with Jason McStoots who effortlessly sang in honeyed tones. Daniel Kamalic, though still young(ish), is clearly meant to take on G&S’ gallery of silly-ass baritones; Sven Olbash, a flamingo in human form, stopped the show with some double-jointed antics --- executed with proper decorum, of course. It was all great fun; hopefully the WORKS will return for a “compleat” run, and soon --- Man cannot live on anthems alone.

"The (In)Compleat Gilbert and Sullivan"
NEW ENGLAND LIGHT OPERA
Tsai Center at Boston University, BOSTON, MA (20 - 21 February)
Masconomet Regional School, TOPSFIELD, MA (22 February only)
1 (978) 232-1115

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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