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June 2005

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PINAFORE in Vermont: correction




***CORRECTION from last issue:***
In the review of HMS PINAFORE in Vermont, it was stated that Lianne Grasso played Josephine. It has been brought to our attention that the role was played at that performance by Kim Bolling. We regret the error. -tsw

The curtain opened on a fairly conventional castle setting, compressed into the small stage of the Agassiz Theatre. The occupants of Castle Hildebrand held a brief freeze, and then began to "search the panorama." Lady and monkeyThey were fairly well together on the choral singing, and the choreographer showed considerable imagination in continually giving them different things to do. Florian (Paul Suda) showed a smooth and pleasing voice, though unfortunately also showed a limited range of dramatic expression. Hildebrand (Adam Goldenberg) did a good job, with a clear and effective bass voice. I was not fond of what seemed to me a ridiculous fake mustache, but then for all I know to the contrary he might have looked more ridiculous without the mustache. Cyril (Scott Zenreich) was competent in the first act, but became even more impressive as he executed his little dances in the second and third acts. He may have overacted in his drinking song, but there are those who say such a thing cannot be overdone. I guess it’s a matter of taste. He certainly contributed energy to a fine "A Lady Fair, of Lineage High", by Psyche (Amy Stebbins).

The three warriors, Arac (Bo Meng), Guron (Noah Van Niel), and Scynthius (Kemp We are warriers threePeterson) had their fans in the crowd this night, judging from the audience reaction, but they certainly were more than respectable in their performances. Nice touches in their introductory song made real characters out of rather unbelievable roles.

The transition from Castle Hildebrand to Adamant, and from Act One to Act Two, was done in a way I had not seen before. Hilarion and his two friends set out, along the rim of the stage, pantomiming travel, while the crew adjusted the set behind them.

Hilarion (Pedro Kaawaloa) did a nice job in general, especially in the first act, though he was disappointing on the high notes in "Whom though has chained." He and his friends were, to my taste, a little too gleeful as they cross-dressed. It was obviously, to them, an opportunity to appear in drag, as opposed to disguising themselves out of necessity. One of them remarked at how they had commonly done this sort of thing in undergraduate productions!

I had a problem with the staging of the entrance of Princess Ida (Lisa Lareau). She appeared on a second story landing of Castle Adamant, with the Undergraduates arrayed below. She had to sing "Minerva" downward, to the assembled crowd, when the song itself begs to be sung upward, hopefully toward the goddess.

I had an even bigger problem with what seemed to me a gratuitous violation of the script. For no reason I could determine, other than a very poor one-liner in the third act, Castle Adamant had two eunuchs performing menial duties.

King Gama (James Scoville) was delightfully unusual. Not that his characterization was extraordinary, but he tunefully sang the patter baritone role. He gamely capered about, despite his deformity, almost as well as Cyril. Unfortunately, he outran the orchestra slightly in a couple of places, but the Music Director (Ben Green) recovered well.

Lady Blanche (Sarah Stein) and Melissa (Jess Peritz) sang their parts creditably, with occasional sparkle. Melissa was charming in her naiveté.

The Director (Charlie Miller) explained in a Director's Note in the program the derivation of this show from a Tennyson play, and explained his decision to use the Tennyson ending. Hilarion and his friends attempt to fight Gama's sons with a direct assault, and are easily defeated. They are spared only because Ida has been shown the flaws in her plan, and decides to try Hilarion's alternative, at least for a while.

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MITGASP's production of YEOMEN OF THE GUARD was one of the most enjoyable G&S productions I have seen. What made it so wonderful? Probably unity of artistic vision: the music direction, stage direction, sets, lighting, costumes, and makeup were effective in innumerable details. The audience was greeted by a magnificent two-level set of the Tower of London, with a Beefeater standing motionless on the second level. Music director Tom Dawkins entered and led the orchestra first in the traditional rendition of "God Save the Queen" (in a very high key! I've spoken to him about that!) and then in a beautifully shaped performance of the overture, during which various daily business transpired on stage (e.g. hanging out the wash), and magnificent lighting effects showed a sunrise and the passage of the day. And then Dawn Perlner Phoebe at spinning wheelcame out to take in the wash and sing Phoebe's opening number. Dawn has a lovely rich mezzo voice, and her characterization was perfectly transparent and consistent: a feather-brain who can't resist needling Wilfred, who has a school-girl's crush on Fairfax, and who sees the plot to free him as a lark. Andrew Sweet played Wilfred with restraint, a clumsy oaf who was (understandably) totally and hopelessly in love with her. Katherine Bryant sang Dame Carruthers's song beautifully, and also contributed a consistent characterization. David Leigh was a grave Sergeant Meryll, whose warm voice is always a pleasure to hear. I was also delighted with the sweet tenor voice and manly bearing of Mike Quezzaire-Belle as Colonel Fairfax. It seemed incredible that Colleen Dever had stepped in as Elsie in the last week or two; her portrayal was authoritative and moving (and she too has a lovely voice). And Jonathan Ichikawa was a mercurial Jack Point with grace and charm, and also a terrific warm baritone voice. The leads' singing was certainly an important strength of the production. But there were plenty of visual effects to keep us entertained as well.

YEOMEN is full of directorial problems, e.g. who knows what? Stage director Gary Zacheiss solved one of them by showing that the Yeomen all recognized Fairfax as Leonard, and agreed to go along with the ruse. This led to an amusing scene in which they formed a human wall to keep Wilfred away while he flirted with Phoebe. But then ... how could Sir Richard not have recognized him? On the other hand, I could not understand why Elsie seemed to be confiding to Phoebe near the end of Act II that she was married to Fairfax. No attempt was made to resolve Elsie's ambiguity in the Finale, and that was OK with me. Fairfax sang his lines from the upper level of the set while Elsie remained on the lower level, and she never went to him, yet she drew away from Point and went halfway up the steps. Poor Elsie had two bad choices: she had outgrown Point, and Fairfax was untrustworthy. But really no choice; as she had declared earlier, she had a duty.

I understand that MIT has to cast students, but Noe Kamelamela in the role of Kate was unfortunate. We've heard her as a tenor and an alto, and she cannot produce the sweet soprano required for the quartet. She also didn't know the melody, and though dressed as a woman she moved and stood like a man, and not a very graceful one. She had in fact appeared in Act I as a man in the chorus, quite confusing me, because she was actively gesticulating with the "tablets" that are Kate's trademark. [Yes, I was afraid the directors' concept for Noe would be misinterpreted thus. She is Kate in the first act too, but Kate is a tomboy who prefers to dress in boy's clothes. In the Act 1 finale, Dame Carruthers spots her and drags her off by the ear, then brings her on properly dressed--reluctantly--in act 2. –tsw]

There was in general a tendency for the chorus members to engage in distracting business when attention should be focused on the leads--the besetting sin of amateur G&S productions. But I far prefer that to a bunch of deadheads on the stage! My two companions and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Thank you, MITGASP!

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Another review of MITG&SP’s YEOMEN

Over the years, MITG&SP has produced many fine productions. This season’s THE YEOMEN OF THE GUARD is assuredly one of their finest. Every aspect of this production deserves high praise.

The moment one enters the MIT Student Center’s theatrically-inhospitable Sala de Puerto Rico and glimpses Larry Stone’s and Ethan Tyndall’s imposing set, one anticipates a memorable afternoon. The set suggests the Tower of London—even the stone colors are correct—replete with a parapet with crenellated battlements (although the crenellations are too narrow and the merlons are too short), and two extremely realistic arrow-slots, or loopholes. Even the “glass” in the Gothic windows includes realistic cracks.

The show opened on an inauspicious note: The shaky rendition of “God Save the Queen” did not auger well for the show to follow. The orchestra, under the talented direction of NEGASSer Thomas Dawkins, however, redeemed itself brilliantly throughout the overture and entire production: a rousing brass choir, moving oboe and clarinet solos (Eliot Polk and William Kuhlman), and fine strings. Curiously, the strings were at their finest on what are arguable the most difficult passages, such as the ornamentation to “the screw may twist and the rack may turn,” for example.

The lighting design by Mike Bromberg was spectacular: A night sky, punctuated by an indeterminate constellation, hung somberly above the parapet throughout the overture. Toward the conclusion of the overture, two yeomen sentries silently patrolled the parapet; a clothesline was strung paralleling the walkway of the parapet; laundry was hung; night faded into an effulgent, crimson dawn. Phoebe, Dawn Perlner, appears on the parapet singing “When maiden loves,” occupying herself not with the traditional spinning wheel explicitly called for in Gilbert’s libretto, but rather by gathering the laundry—a liberty I readily forgive. This number is traditionally sung in solitude. Unfortunately, here the staging during her song adds several superfluous characters below on Tower Green who are so needlessly busy as to distract from Phoebe’s singing.

Vocal Director Emily Senturia drilled her troops well. The Townspeople (including the charming Deb Sager, Jessica Raine, and Second Citizen Skyler Wrench) and Chorus of Yeomen enter to the rousing double chorus, “Tower warders, under orders.” Sartorially, the yeomen were splendid; military deportment, exemplary—even their pikes were held vertical, with the blades faithfully facing to the fore. (Note, however, that the yeomen ought to be uniformly armed with partisans, a late, ceremonial derivative of the halberd.) Their officer, Sergeant Meryll, Dave Leigh—another NEGASSer—was impeccable, with a commanding baritone voice and imposing presence. All that was lacking was at least one more tenor to yield proper harmonic balance.

Lighting progresses from dawn to radiant day. Dame Carruthers, Katherine Bryant, enters, a more-youthful-than-usual “ex-prioress” and “Keeper of the Keep.” Thus, Sergeant Meryll’s aversion to her must be based, not on her appearance, but rather on her martinet character. Her “When our gallant Norman foes” vividly paints the appropriate chilling picture in vocal splendor, aided by fine Yeomen backup. Sergeant Meryll, however, flees in terror at her entrance and timidly cowers throughout the scene. Can this be the same Sergeant Meryll who is courageous enough to risk death to save Colonel Fairfax? Also, on more than one occasion, Phoebe seats herself on the executioner’s block, her feet in the straw strewn to soak up Fairfax’s blood! The portrayals of both Dame Carruthers and Wilfred Shadbolt, Andrew Sweet, are to my taste: not grotesque caricatures, not unduly ugly, nor repulsively uncouth or unkempt.

After a quick costume change, Third Yeoman Nick Bozard reenters as a suitably young and brash Leonard Meryll. Understandably, his tenor in the trio ”Alas! I waver to and fro” is no match for the power of Dave Leigh and Dawn Perlner.Yeoman and a lady

Colonel Fairfax, Mike Quezzaire-Belle, and Sir Richard Cholmondely, Bill Meehan, enter for Fairfax’s “Is life a boon?” Colonel Fairfax fulfills his role well, with a pleasing tenor timbre and an enigmatic sensitive/insensitive character. For reasons unknown, however, Colonel Fairfax is beardless! What of Meryll’s line in the previous scene, “he shall shave off his beard?” Sir Richard—very elderly, very apropos—sang and acted laudably, with exemplary, explosive final consonants, but his peascod-bellied doublet—although authentic—seemed so wrinkled that it failed to proclaim his lordly rank.

Normally, “I have a song to sing, O!” seems not merely harmonically monotonous, but also tediously overly-long. [I beg to differ! –tsw ...I desire to associate myself with that expression of... mlc] The Stage Director, Garry Zacheiss, and Choreographer Nina Fefferman, artfully succeeded in choreographing this singing farce into effective theater. During this song, however, the chorus once stampeded ahead of the orchestra, illustrating that one can go astray on even the simplest of numbers. In “I’ve jibe and joke,” Jack Point, Jonathan Ichikawa, crafts a nimble, spry, hyperactive or manic portrayal, as befits an aspiring busker. Point’s tragic Aristotelian hamartia dooms him to “dreaming of Paradise that nearly was mine.” In response to Sir Richard’s inquiry, “Are ye man and wife?” Point’s hasty, insensitive quip, “No, sir; for though I’m a fool, there is a limit to my folly,” took seconds to say, a lifetime to regret. Moments later, however, the prospect of an inheritance of “an hundred crowns” markedly enhances the appeal of marriage to Elsie. (Yeomen trivia: Henry VII founded the Yeomen of the Guard in 1485; the Tower Warders—not the same as the Yeomen of the Guard—were created in 1548. The earliest arquebus appeared in 1475; the earliest spring-powered clocks appeared near the end of the 15th century. A crown is 1/4 £; a mark is 2/3 £. An electuary is a pasty mass of medicine mixed with honey or syrup, used especially for animals, smeared on teeth, tongue, or gums.)

Wilfred Shadbolt’s boorish behavior sinks to a nadir as he moves to blindfold Elsie with his soiled handkerchief, before escorting her to Colonel Fairfax’s cell, for purposes unrevealed. Elsie Maynard, Colleen Dever—promoted from the chorus to lead soprano on a mere ten-days’ notice—reemerges, still dazed by her hasty marriage, and wins our hearts. Her singing was exquisite, her interpretation even better. Colleen did not sing the words of ”’Tis done! I am a bride!”; she lived them, evoking tears of sympathy. Elsie exits. Launching the scheme to rescue Colonel Fairfax, Phoebe coquettishly toys with the simpleton, Wilfred, in ”Were I thy bride.”

Fortunately, this production included all four verses of “didst thou not, O Leonard Meryll,” thereby allowing the Fourth Yeoman, Mike Bromberg, to shine. Moments later, during “So amiable I’ve grown,” Phoebe takes liberty with the rhythms, for no apparent reason, and quickly finds herself out of sync with the orchestra. The funeral bell tolls not from the orchestra, but rather from the back of the theater—a lovely touch! The townspeople choruses throughout the finale are superb. As Elsie pleads “Oh, Mercy, thou whose smile has shone,” the evening sky is ablaze; dusk and tears aptly fall.

Another double chorus, ”Night has spread her pall once more,” opens Act II. Realistic, flickering lanterns and Larry Stone’s amazing, blazing torch complement fine singing. In chiding the Yeomen of the Guard, however, the townspeople manhandle the yeomen—something they should never dare to do! As Point consoles Elsie after Fairfax’s “death,” in the dialogue that precedes, “A man who would woo a fair maid,” an observant G&Ser noted that Phoebe stands far too close to Elsie, and thus would overhear her say, “Still, he was my husband”—a revelation that would destroy Phoebe’s dreams of marrying Fairfax—and would surely provoke an immediate outburst.

In the finale to Act II, Fairfax—clad in a drab olive cloak that seemed neither regal nor appropriate for a bridegroom—appears on the parapet behind Elsie, to claim her as his bride. After Elsie’s heartbroken entreaty, “Leonard, my loved one,” Elsie turns around and elatedly recognizes Leonard/Fairfax. But neither she nor Fairfax moves toward one another! As Fairfax and Elsie are about to embark on their new life together, a refulgent, amethyst sunrise welcomes the two reprieved innocents.

Despite these minor criticisms, MITG&SP has surpassed their customary high standard to yield a memorable, moving rendition of what is arguably Gilbert & Sullivan’s finest operetta.


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