Gibberings Grim and Ghastly

The Sorcerer is minor Gilbert & Sullivan. It was the first full-length ‘Savoy opera’, although they’d done a Christmas pantomime (Thespis) and they didn’t really take off as powerhouses until their next show, HMS Pinafore. But there is much to like about Sorcerer, especially its tuneful score.

My friend Gary Slavin is a very talented director, and my first Sorcerer was his as well, Blue Hill Troupe’s 2009 production. Gary had a brilliant idea: bring it into modern day, make the engagement party at a fancy club, and the rich side of the cast would be celebrities as well as generic rich folk (I was one of those), and the servants/working class would be cater waiters and such. The action cleverly included technology such as cell phones, and didn’t shy away from queer representation (a faux Ellen Degeneris, Portia Rossi and RuPaul in drag). It was very clever and very funny.

When invited to direct the same show three years later with Savoynet at the International G&S Festival, he used the same concept, although with a different cast and set. And music director (me – this was my conducting debut at the festival). This was also a wonderful production, a joy to be a part of, and was very successful. And since then, I’ve had the opportunity to play in the orchestra for Utopia Opera’s Sorcerer, just a few years ago. So I’m pretty damn familiar with the show.

Blue Hill rotates through the canon, and came back to Sorcerer for their spring 2020 show. It was cast, and quite far into rehearsals when… guess what? COVID hit and everything shut down. And you were along for the rest, and Sorcerer got postponed a year, then two. By this time, the production had lost its original director and some of the principal cast. So they asked Gary to come back and direct it, specifying this time that it would be a traditional Sorcerer, and they held auditions for the open cast slots. (I’m very happy to say that I coached my friend Lesley for her Lady Sangazure audition, and she got the role.)

So I had to go see it, of course, many many friends involved in the cast, crew and orchestra, and across both sets of principals (so I had to see it twice). And so I’ll give a review that’s gentler than it otherwise would be… but no fear, it was a really good show.

It was an unusual set for Sorcerer – usually you see a lawn and a refreshment tent, but here we were in the Ploverleigh town square, with a cafe with outdoor tables. And a lot of stairs (helps place the cast so everyone can be seen and heard). I thought it worked nicely. Comedy was played up, which Sorcerer needs (first half hour is ‘boring scenes from a village’, so you need to spice it up as much as you can until The Sorcerer arrives and picks up the tempo of the show). Costumes differentiated rich from poor nicely – rich ladies in jewel tones, working class in beige and white for the most part. There was just enough dancing. Nice work with Alexis in “I love that love” far more wrapped up in himself than communicating with Aline. The Sangazure/Marmaduke duet was very fun, especially with them secretly holding hands at the end. Lots of little bits like that.

The principals were mostly friends of mine, and I won’t get too specific about their performances. The two Sorcerers were very different in their portrayals, but both were valid. Ken Harmon’s JW Wells was menacing, which was an interesting choice, but I thought he could have taken it even farther. Martin Everall’s JW Wells was more twinkly, and felt more like the Wells in my head. The Alines and Constances were vocally excellent. Chaz Peacock’s Alexis and Lauren Cupples’s Aline worked particularly well together as characters – they’ve now played a couple on stage several times and clearly are very comfortable with each other. I was impressed by the tour de force of my friend Alexis Cregger singing a contralto role beautifully when she’s not at all a contralto. There were two Herculeses – both children of principals, both fun and funny on stage. Company stalwart Win Rutherfurd ‘owns’ the role of Dr. Daly (this was his fifth production) and he was fine, but my friend Erik Hansen, the other Dr. Daly sounded just terrific in the part, great role for him.

I heard a lot of commentary that the orchestra had been having problems – combination of unrehearsed substitute players, one particularly bad cellist, and a pit deep enough to cause problems conducting the cast and orchestra at the same time. (I’ve been there, more than once, it’s annoying as heck.) I thought the sound of both cast and orchestra was lovely, but yeah, there were communication problems all over the place.

I will also say that “Constance, my daughter” is one of the deadliest scenes in G&S if you play it as written, and can only be rectified by picking up the tempo and delivering very blatant subtext – and sadly, that didn’t happen to my satisfaction.

Anyway, it’s great to see the Troupe back on stage at their home theater again, and always great to see another Gary show and see my friends given their chance to shine. When I do a show, it takes about 3 weeks for the tunes to stop running through my head – all I did was see this one twice and I’m still humming the overture, days later.

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