By Bob Shuman
Culturally, winter holidays and families may be more important to Arts curriculum than what is taught in schools. During the recess, children can be exposed to The Nutcracker or Hamilton, see a movie, receive a book, or listen to show tunes—and something in them may open up. Hopefully, they will feel surprise at what they discover, and suddenly, have a memory to savor for a lifetime. The occasion can give a student special definition or identification, which has nothing to do with grades or societal programming, expectations or approval. Some may even believe that such a turning point has the potential to turn the young into future ticket buyers, but that is too crass an estimation. Building this secret place might begin with Rodgers and Hammerstein, The Lion King, or learning about the settling of New Amsterdam or Winston Churchill. The subject might be old-fashioned or quirky, like first reading Alice in Wonderland, going to the circus, or listening to a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. What is important is that, in a nation where most people do about the same things during a day, the mundane is broken and individualism can emerge.
Cleverly directed, as well as conducted, by Albert Bergeret and choreographed by Bill Fabris, with ballet, comic marches, and even a nod to A Chorus Line, The Pirates of Penzance, from New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (which ran at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College from December 27-30) strikes this reviewer as a production with ingredients to inspire—coming from the kind of theatre company you always hoped was out there and getting supported. The cast, on the evening of December 28, included David Macaluso, Mathew Wages, James Mills, Carter Lynch, David Auxier, Katie Dixon, Hannah Holmes, Abigail Benke, Merrill Grant, and Angela Christine Smith, among other well-trained singers in an ensemble of pirates, police, and wards, working with good humor and high spirits. The set, an old-fashioned painted backdrop with rainbow lighting—including a Celtic ruin and the dangerous clifftops of Cornwall, England–was by Lou Anne Gilleland (scenic design) and Benjamin Weill (lights)—the period costumes come from Gail J. Wofford & Quinto Ott. W.S. Gilbert’s libretto is nonsensical, using Queen Victoria as a deus ex machina, but there are moments in Shaw and Shakespeare that seem about as contrived, as well.
What is noticeable, however, is how well the tuneful music continues to captivate and flow–and here its orchestration is superior to the rather tinny, electronic hurdy-gurdy sounds used for the Joseph Papp production of 1980, starring Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt. Maybe this is all a way of saying that this reviewer had something of an epiphany himself regarding Gilbert and Sullivan, after assuming that such a piece would be rather moldy. But the presentation, played at a human scale, glistens like the bright, sparkling earrings worn by Dixon’s Mabel. Tell someone about the integrity of this company and perhaps recommend it to a young person looking for purpose—maybe he or she will ask the artists what they did over their holidays as kids.
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© by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.
Production photos: Carol Rosegg