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CurtainUp Reviews The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players' 32nd Anniversary Season

The Mikado
The Quintessential G & S

An Overview of G&S Season
by Elyse Sommer
At age 32, New York's Gilbert & Sullivan Players have been around almost twice as long as The Phantom of the Opera which last week made much of its 18 years on Broadway. While these staunch G&S boosters has played mostly off rather than on the Great White Way (its recent seasons at City Center have been more luxurious and well funded than those of its earlier years), they have enabled scores of theater goers to experience full scale productions by Sir Arthur Sullivan and Sir William S. Gilbert and comprehend their contribution to the musical theater. Granted that the patter song long precedes its becoming a hallmark of the G&S operettas, but it was their patter songs and their colorful works generally that served as an important bridge between the old-style operetta and the modern musical. "The Speed Test" in Thoroughly Modern Millie, "Rock Cit"y in The Music Man, "Getting Married" in Company are just some show-stopping songs that owe a debt to the patter of the "tohroughly modern general " in the The Pirates of Pencanze , to name just one G&S patter hit.

Though fame and fortune smiled on Gilbert & Sullivan in their life time, the present generation of theater goers (and critics) prefer the type of musical theater they inspired rather than Mr. G's and Mr. S's own works. Without those intrepid devotees of Gilbert & Sullivan -- Alfred Bergeret, his wife Gail Wofford, and their friend Jan Holland -- New Yorkers would not have a chance to enjoy these short-lived annual presentations of at least two G&S classics each year. Hopefully, enough of the older audiences who make up the bulk of the audience at each year's productions, will bring children and grandchildren so that there will be many more anniversaries for this energetic and enterprising little engine that did.

In addition to The Mikado and the new revue seen by Julia Furay and myself and reviewed here, this year's Gilbert & Sullivan Player productions featuresd the ever popular H.M. S. Pinafore, with Jan 6th and 14th performances at 8pm and matinees on Jan 7th at 2pm and January 15th at 3pm.

The Mikado
By Julia Furay
A wandering minstrel I--
A thing of shreds and patches,
Of ballads, songs and snatches,
And dreamy lullaby!

Laurelyn Watson as Yum-Yum
Laurelyn Watson as Yum-Yum (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
References to Paris Hilton, Tom DeLay, the TV show "Fear Factor", and the Secretary of Homeland Security probably didn't feature in the original 1885 production of The Mikado in London. But contemporary jokes and physical humor -- oh, and Gilbert and Sullivan's timeless score, too -- are the selling points of the production currently at City Center.

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 MIKADO or The Town of Titipo
Stage director and conductor: Albert Bergeret
Libretto by Sir William S. Gilbert
Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan

Cast: Melissa Attebury (Pitti-Sing), Robin Bartunek (Peep-Bo), Louis Dall'Ava (Pooh-Bah), Diana Dollman (Katisha), Michael Scott Harris (Nanki-Poo), Keith Jurosko (The Mikado of Japan), Edward Prostak (Pish-Tush), Stephen Quint (Ko-Ko), Laurelyn Watson (Yum-Yum)
Set Design: Albere
Costume Design: Gail J. Wofford and Kayko Nakamura
Lighting Design: Sally Small
Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes (with one intermission).
City Center, 130 West 55 Street, 212-581-1212
From Janurary 6-15, 2005
Fri. Jan 13 at 8 PM, Sat. Jan. 14 at 1 PM
Tickets: $40-$86
Reviewed Julia Furay based on January 8th matinee performance.
The Quintessential G & S
By Elyse Sommer
Trial by Jury
Laurelyn Watson as Angelina & Stephen Quinn as the Learned Judge (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
This revue adds a welcome new chapter to this company's tributes to Gilbert & Sullivan. Unless you saw it on Thursday when I did, this review is for the record. But my guess is that the G&S players will be fine-tuning it this for a return engagements. This first outing of the attempt so if you weren't part of the packed house, not to worry. My guess, bolstered by the packed house, is that the company will fine tune this mixed menu and bring it back to give more people a chance to taste a larger variety of excerpts during these brief annual productions.

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.

Libretto by Sir William S. Gilbert
Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan
Stage Director Albert Bergeret
Conductor: Jan Holland
Choreographer: Robin Bartunek
Costume Design: Gail J. Wofford and Kayko Nakamura
Lighting Design: Sally Small
Act 1: TRIAL BY JURY (35 minutes)
Cast: Stephen Quint (The Learned Judge), Richard Alan Holmes (Counsel for the Plaintiff), David Warren (Usher), Michael Scott Harris (The Defendant, Edwin), Ted Bouton (Foreman of the Jury) Laurelyn Watson ( The Plantiff, Angelina); plus ensemble)
Act 2: NYGASPà la Carte (Approximately 85 minutes)
Selections from The Sorcerer, The Priates of Penzance, Patience, The Yeomen of the Guard, Iolanthe, The Gondoliers, Princess Ida, Rudigore
Cast: Albert Bergeret as Richard D'Oyly Carte Master of Ceremonies with The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players Company

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one intermission).
City Center, 130 West 55 Street, 212-581-1212
Thursday, January 12th 8pm-- one performance only.
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