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Gilbert & Sullivan Players Opening Gala

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Wednesday Oct 19, 2011
David Macaluso as Archibald Grosvenor in "Patience", Stephen O’Brien as The Lord Chancellor in "Iolanthe", Sarah Caldwell Smith as The Princess of Monte Carlo in "The Grand Duke", David Wannen as The Pirate King in "The Pirates of Penzance"
David Macaluso as Archibald Grosvenor in "Patience", Stephen O’Brien as The Lord Chancellor in "Iolanthe", Sarah Caldwell Smith as The Princess of Monte Carlo in "The Grand Duke", David Wannen as The Pirate King in "The Pirates of Penzance"  (Source:William Reynolds)

For many audiences, symphony is the aural equivalent of Brussels sprouts: something you know you should have a bit of every now and then, because it's good for you. What joy, then, to discover the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players Season Opening Gala. This evening of selected songs from past and upcoming performances was a perfect way for the uninitiated to see the best of G&S, or for stalwart fans to get a sampling of their favorite tunes.

Gilbert and Sullivan are that perfect music and lyrics pairing that bring stories to life. The characters singing these now-beloved songs provide comic asides, funny accents, and assorted sight gags to keep the audience laughing. Between the silly walks, capering dances, and pattered hand jives, the effect is more than a little Monty Python-esque. Even the dramatic scenes are comic. These easily accessible symphony numbers provide the spoonful of sugar that allows everyone - even young viewers - to enjoy the symphony.

Sweetening the pot last weekend at uptown's storied Symphony Space was the program presented by NYGASP Artistic Director Albert Bergeret, his symphony, and the singers. Opening the evening with the overture from "The Pirate of Penzance", Bergeret remarked that Sullivan's satire of Verdi in this was one of the things that made the music so fun to play.

The players then performed three selections from last season's hit, "Utopia Limited", a satire in which residents of Utopia look to England as their ideal. The goateed David Wannen does a fine job here, and throughout the show, in matching his fine voice with his comically expressive eyes. He shines again in a tune from "The Yeoman of the Guard", a ridiculous duet between a jester and a jailer that is a "tale of cock and bull." The women ensemble gathers to sing another "Yeoman" selection, in which harpie shrills chastise the men for losing their prisoner.

Conductor Joseph Rubin then stepped in to conduct the beloved "Mikado" hit, "Three Little Maids from School", and Bergeret returned to present a comic version of "Tit-willow", with lyrics (and Canarsie accent) courtesy of the late comedian Allan Sherman. They follow it with a selection from "Trial by Jury."

Moving on to preview the upcoming season, Bergeret presents two selections from "The Grand Duke", the symphony's obscure choice for the season. Redhead Charlotte Detrick gets the opportunity to display her fine voice, opposite Daniel Greenwood.

Things heat up when James Mills and his male ensemble members perform "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General", the "Penzance" hit that Bergeret promised would hit the Symphony Space stage around the holiday season. The song has been parodied on countless commercials hawking everything from dog food to cars, and has been featured in shows including "The Simpsons" and, quite memorably, "Frasier".

As part of their move to involve the audience, Bergeret invited the crowd to submit their song requests, not only at the gala event, but also via Facebook, where three songs with the best rationales for playing them were selected.

The obscure "Penzance" tune "When the Foeman Bares His Steel" was requested via "Brigette", who said that while performing in a rendition of the show, could never shake this male ensemble piece. It is easy to see how the song, performed by Bobbies with a catchy chorus of "terreen-turra", would be hard to forget.

Director Albert Bergeret proved how much game his company truly had, literally pulling audience selections out of a hat, tapping assorted company members, and staging the number impromptu.

Bergeret moved the symphony on to "Patience", to hit the stage this fall. The players sing of love and duty, and Asian chanteuse Caitlin Burke shines as Lady Jane in "So Go to Him and Say to Him", her skills transcending the lackluster tune about aestheticism.

The conductor then shares tunes from his favorite Gilbert & Sullivan opera, "Iolanthe", to hit the stage in May 2012. Buxom blonde Angela Christine knocks "Oh Foolish Fay" right out of the park, as does Richard Alan Holmes in the following tune, "When Britain Really Ruled the Waves", another selection from the online submission poll.

"This is a satire of Sullivan's genius," says Bergeret of the song. "The immortality of human folly means that great satire will never go out of style."

In the interest of keeping satire alive, NYGASP player David Auzier and others present his original composition, "The Legacy of Patter", a medley that presents the best examples of cross-talking musical patter, not only from Gilbert & Sullivan, but also from Sondheim and others. As the women chatter, "pick a little, take a little" and the men hawk out "Modern Major-General" and other selections, the piece is a patter-lover's dream.

NYGASP invited all to see a free performance of the song at 8:30 p.m. on November 10 at Lincoln Center's new Atrium at 63rd and Broadway.

After a champagne intermission, the NYGASP gang returned to the stage. After a mesmerizing presentation of the overture from "Iolanthe", the company's oldest (and oft-barbed) player Keith Jurosko leads the men into "I Am the Captain" from the G&S hit "H.M.S. Pinafore." The women follow with a selection from "The Gondoliers.

Bergeret then proved how much game his company truly had, literally pulling audience selections out of a hat, tapping assorted company members, and staging the number impromptu. Among the half-dozen selections was "If You Go In", the cliché song that notes, "in for a penny in for a pound, it's love that makes the world go round."

Other selections featured numbers from "Yeoman", "Mikado", and "Patience", with even the talented French horn player leaving the brass section to sing with the players, and in fine form.

NYGASP closed the evening with an ensemble presentation of "Try We Life-Long" from "The Gondoliers". The evening was hardly flawless, with several stumbles from Bergeret regarding the lineup, a few dropped pages, and a few dropped notes. But as they say in the theater, a bad dress rehearsal guarantees a flawless opening night, and if this sampling of the season to come is any indication, New York has much to look forward to their 2011-2012 season.

"The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players" 2011-2012 season presents shows at Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th St. For info or tickets visit 212-864-1414, or visit symphonyspace.org

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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