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March 2005

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PIRATES OF PENZANCE by the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players

Graceful MIKADO in Sudbury


PIRATES OF PENZANCE by the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players

A policemanOn January 8, my mother and I took the train to Manhattan to see THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE. I started to fret on the trip down—would this be worth our while? We’d never seen anything by NYGASP, and I didn’t trust them not to set PIRATES in a racquetball court or dress the women’s chorus in black leather or…

Well, I needn’t have worried. The production was a lot of fun. Some details were brilliant, others didn’t really work, but overall we had a great time. Albert Bergeret was the stage director, the musical director and the conductor; he was greeted with wild applause, and he conducted a lively overture. There were many children in the audience, several of whom I noticed cheerfully bobbing their heads in time to “With Catlike Tread”.

The Pirates’ Lair set looked good. “Pour, oh pour the pirate sherry” was staged as a surprise party, and Frederic was led on blindfolded to blow out the candles on his cake. So far, so good; the acting was funny, particularly when Ruth sternly took away Frederic’s sherry and gave him a glass of milk.

Andrew MacPhail played Frederic as a sweet, dopey youth with a physical tic: every time he said the word “duty” he clicked his heels, stuck out his chin and waved a finger in the air. Later in the play, Ruth and the Pirate King exploited this routine to good effect. He had a fine voice and good delivery—in fact, the whole cast spoke well, and I could make out every word from my seat at the back.

David MacalusoYes, I am a Major General! as Samuel had great facial expressions and worked as a small, scruffy foil for the large and boisterous Pirate King. Ross David Crutchlow played the King as a lovable rascal, with bursts of melodrama (at one point snarling, “Not a worrrd! He is doom-éd!”) He had a great sense of humor, and incidentally he was gorgeous in an ex-rock-star kind of way.

Angela Smith made a pretty good Ruth. She was hapless and bullied all the first act-I know that’s the way the part is written, but it can get depressing. In Act II she wore trousers and acted a lot spunkier. She, Crutchlow and MacPhail worked brilliantly together, and the high point of the whole production was the “Paradox” sequence of songs.

The men’s chorus looked great in their pirate outfits, they sang well, and they did some decent swordplay, but at first their big numbers seemed strangely reserved and laid-back; they were very much the “shy lot” Ruth called them. It took them a while to warm up to the point where they seemed to be enjoying themselves. However, in their first number with the Major-General’s daughters, all shyness vanished and they swaggered and blustered and leered no end. I’m pleased to report that they kept it up for the rest of the show.

Speaking of the women’s chorus, all of whom were beauties: in “Climbing Over Rocky Mountain”, they appeared bearing badminton racquets, butterfly nets, and croquet mallets, and they played games throughout the song. Betina Hershey as Isabel performed a gorgeous ballet routine, which continued during the dialogue. They looked impressive, but the staging was too busy for me to enjoy the song as much as I might.

Edith, Kate and Isabel stood out, but the whole ensemble’s acting was excellent during Frederic’s song, “Oh, is there not one maiden breast…” Mabel (Laurelyn Watson) had entered with the chorus, reading a book, and at “Yes, one!” she flung the book over her shoulder and claimed Frederic. She sang like an angel, and “Did ever maiden wake” was gorgeous. Meanwhile the chorus launched into “How beautifully blue the sky”, taking tiny steps so that the whole crowd seemed to glide across the stage as if on rollers.

“Here’s a first-rate opportunity” was the number that really won me over. Several of the women were small enough that their pirates could sweep them right off their feet, and all the singers had such a touchingly innocent air that the whole audience fell about laughing.

Hal Linden as the Major-General got applause at his entrance. I waited cynically to see what he’d be like; he was such a big-name actor that I’d been worried he wouldn’t fit with the spirit of the production. However, he did a fine job, and I liked him (which, I’m sure, is a great relief to his mind). He played the M-G as a gentle, wafty old guy, daunted by the rhymes in “I am the very model” and easily toyed with by the pirates. His funniest moment came during “Sighing softly to the river”. He did a ballet routine and scattered rose petals, while managing to overlook the pirates as they pushed him around the stage on a tea trolley.

The production used lots of modern jokes and sight gags. Sometimes they were fun, as when Frederic pulled out a portrait of Queen Victoria to give the Sergeant a hint, and sometimes really annoying—as when an actor would stop in the middle of a line, do a visual gag, wait for the laugh, and only then go on with the line, which would have been funny in its own right if the actor had given it its due. Oh, heck, I guess most productions use a lot of stage business, but one can have too much of a good thing.

I’m running out of space and I haven’t given the Policemen the praise they deserve. Keith Jurosko as the Sergeant was beautifully ponderous, and also charming was Louis Dall’Ava, named in the program as “the little klutzy cop”. The policemen did a sort of Morris dance with their billy clubs that charmed me no end.

At any rate, we had a great time, and I’d love to go to another show by NYGASP - IOLANTHE, for choice, but I think any G&S they did would be fun.

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Graceful MIKADO in Sudbury

This was the Sudbury Savoyards' first production in the Lincoln-Sudbury High School's new auditorium, so curiosity was high: Would the hall be attractive? Would the stage be large enough for the group's large chorus? Would the acoustics be good? The answer? - yes to all!

Steve Malionek's conducting showed control and subtlety, and his support of both the orchestra and the singers was satisfyingly dependable. Kathy Lague's direction focuses on interesting visual images: She explains, in her director's notes, her interest in Kabuki, and she was able to use this style to add flavor without distracting from the essence of the piece. Andrea Roessler's set, built of simple, moveable Japanese screens, was lovely as well as functional, and inspired applause when the curtain first opened.

Paul Lemieux proved a rich-voiced Nanki-Poo, who understands G&S very well - I enjoyed his very Nanki-Poohuman but stylistically appropriate acting, which brought his character to warm, humorous life without anachronisms. (I was strongly reminded of my old local favorite, Lonny Powell.) Following his fine opening number, the Pish-Tush of NEGASS's own Tony Parkes continued the high level of performance. Mike Lague entered next to present an interestingly dry, low-key Pooh-Bah. And then Dennis O'Brien swept us all away with his perfectly timed and nuanced Ko-Ko.

Jacque Wilson, as Yum-Yum, displayed a lovely voice, and her sisters, Peep-Bo (Nectaria Kordan) and Pitti-Sing (Katherine Engel Meifert) were very well - very well indeed.

Karen Pierce showed great promise as Katisha - there is a fine voice and much passion in this generously-proportioned lady, and I look forward to hearing more from her. Eric Rubin as the Mikado took the stage with strength and simplicity -- like the Pooh-Bah, he chose to project his part through understatement, with an unusually deadpan manner.

The chorus - ah, I was able to recognize so many of them, despite the white-face, Kabuki-style makeup provided by makeup designer Suford Lewis! It was good to see and hear the well-prepared blocking and clear, balanced singing of these old friends!

Three little maidsHaving been involved in many productions of THE MIKADO, I certainly have my prejudices. I expect to see a riotous collection of strong characters, each fighting to retain his or her own personality, not to mention life, in the face of threatened annihilation of one sort after another. I know who these characters are - in fact, in some cases (notably, the case of Pooh-Bah), they have actually passed into the language as definitions of a particular personality type. I expect sparks when the characters collide, interspersed with softer moments of tenderness and sharper moments of wit. This production was perhaps not peopled by all the forceful individuals I have come to expect. But I would still recommend it as a lovely, graceful production. It's definitely worth going to see Dennis O'Brien's splendid Ko-Ko, and to experience that rare creature: a tenor (Paul Lemieux) who can act as well as sing! (When's the next YEOMEN due?!)


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