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CurtainUp Reviews The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players' 32nd Anniversary Season
The Quintessential G & S
By Julia Furay
For better or worse, this New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players performance at City Center mixes up-to-the-minute gags with lush orchestrations, lovely (if old-fashioned) scenery and a poised, accomplished chorus. Director/conductor Albert Bergeret's mishmash of the conventional and the brash isn't quite as awkward as it would seem, so there's much to enjoy in the performance.
Gilbert's book and Sullivan's music come off beautifully. Bergeret's 25-piece orchestra and tge large chorus pay off musically from the long overture to the final bows. Similarly, the cast's comfort with the text and lyrics tends to find most of the laughs inherent in the piece. Once the script's particular brand of silliness whipped into hilarity is established, the cast milks it for all it's worth.
The reason the piece itself feel old does not rest with the plot which is perennially clever: The wandering minstrel, Nanki-Poo (Michael Scott Harris) pursues the girl he loves (Laurelyn Watson as Yum-Yum), but the ridiculous foibles of law and life keep the two of them apart. The problem is the form. Today's fast-paced, amplified brand of musical theatre does little for William Gilbert's chattery lyrics or endless verses. The songs are still fun, of course, but they wear out their welcome after a while. The lyrics become hard to decipher; the verses seem to repeat ad infinitum. The pacing is hard to take.
As already noted, with Gilbert's humor not quite enough, this ensemble punches it up with contemporary jokes and as well as quite a bit of slapstick physical humor as well. This works sometimes but not always; for example, the random reference to the ridiculousness of the Secretary of Homeland Security is one thing, but rewriting entire chunks of Ko-Ko's (Stephen Quint) already very funny "As Some Day It May Happen" seems a bit like overkill. It's what you'd call not trusting the source material. Still the intent is so obviously good-natured and and intended to please the that it's not as off-putting as it might be.
The performers are obviously comfortable enough with the material ad-lib to their advantage, manging to .o emphasize the humor and minimize its inherent racism. However, there are few standout performances. Vocally, the ensemble is consistently appealing, especially Harris as the young suitor Nanki-Poo and Dianna Dollman as Katisha, Nanki-Poo's rampaging elderly would-be lover. Other than that, the cast members who do grab your attention do so mostly with mugging. Louis Dall'Ava as the rotund Lord Pooh-Bah is a good example. His lines are funny enough that his recurring falling-down-but-being-too-enormous-to-get-up shtick seems unnecessary.
The penchant for slapstick, notwithstanding, this is a production that honors Gilbert & Sullivan. The staging and choreography are lively and lucid. Director Albert Bergeret certainly knows how to insure that the performers use a Chinese fan to its advantage when singing a big number. The costumes are just as bright and attractive as the scenery, so as we listen to Sullivan's enduring score we always have something lovely to look at. It may not be lively musical theater in the modern sense and this particular Gilbert and Sullivan favorite probably deserves better than what it gets here but it's not a bad way to spend two and a half hours even if you're not a dyed-in-the-wool G&S fan.
The Quintessential G & S
By Elyse Sommer
The first and shorter part of the evening consisted of the complete, fully staged Trial by Jury and under Mr. Bergeret's nimble direction the large ensemble whizzed through this amusing courtroom drama.Laurelyn Watson, now called Angeline but still yum-yum to look at played the jilted bride plaintiff and Michael Scott Harrison now played the fickle fiancé Edwin.
The longer revue section, typical of the company's penchant for broad humor had the double entendre title NYGASP à la Carte an impresario channeling D'Oyly Carte to introduce each number. as the impresario introducing each number. This introductory commentary is a good idea for people unfamiliar with the G&S canon, and probably would work even more smoothly if delivered by Albert Bergeret as listed in the program, instead of an unidentified last-minute substitute.. In case there's a doubt in anyone's mind, the selections put a heavy emphasis on the trademark patter songs of which Stephen Quint is truly a master. A number that had a large ensemble from The Yeomen of the Guard march on stage from the aisles proved Mr. Bergeret knows not only how to use a Chinese fan to its advantage when singing a big number, but to do the same thing with a cape The performers unstintingly generous performances, resulted in a few too many double encores. Naturally, the many G&S fans in the audience didn't mind but I think a slimmed down and more smoothly delivered commentary would insure the future success of this new addition to the company's repertory.
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