Still way behind in blogging. I have a plan to get caught up, though, and much to discuss, once I get a window of time and energy.
I have been to a bunch of performances lately. Mostly Gilbert & Sullivan stuff, not all. Sometimes the same show more than once. Since most of them were community performances involving friends, I will review with a light touch.
A few weeks ago, I went up to Connecticut to see Troupers Light Opera’s The Yeomen of the Guard. I conducted three shows with this group about ten years ago, invaluable experience, and had several friends and colleagues involved in this one. I also was spending an overnight with my college roommate and his husband, which they’d repeatedly invited me to do over the last year. (‘over the last year’ is going to be my new way of saying ‘since the thing‘, I think). Vance and Craig also had friends in the company, so they picked me up at the train station and we all went together.
It was quite a nice production, on the higher end of what I’ve seen Troupers do. (I thought about it and realized that, even though it’s an effort for me to get up there and see their shows, I’ve seen more than half of their productions since I worked with them.) As always, casting was variable, but there were definite standouts. Christina, who’d done a lovely Tessa for me in my Gondoliers back in 2010, was Elsie and she was, as expected, fantastic. The other women were all excellent too – and I was glad to see my buddy Marian assay Dame Carruthers with the no-nonsense attitude I knew she’d bring to the role.
Of the men, the standouts were Fairfax (a difficult tenor role, and when it’s done really well, it’s a relief) and the Lieutenant – too young for the role, but sang it excellently. The chorus was larger than usual and sang very well. The direction was sound, and the set was as well – except there was one set piece that was a set of stairs leading up to a platform, and then another down again – and people would traverse this for no apparent reason (it didn’t actually lead anywhere).
Christina’s husband Zach, also a friend, was the music director, and he did a fine job – except they had the orchestra behind the set, always a mistake. Monitors helped them keep together, but the expected tricky bits, i.e. ‘as escort for the prisoner’ did not keep together, and how could they.
Saw many friends in the lobby during and after, including my buddy Wendy, and the concertmaster. Very much worth while. Then Vance and Craig and I found a Mexican restaurant for dinner, very nice, and then just hung out at home until bedtime.
Craig is the music director at First Congregational Church, and they live on the grounds in a church-owned house, very nice. Although assured I didn’t have to, I went to the church service on Sunday. Got to see my friends there (more singers). The service itself was really pleasant and the entire theme was about how God loves everyone, including people different from you. No subtlety, it was underlined and italicized in large font. If I were a churchy person, I’d be very happy to go to such a church.
I’d suggested that maybe after brunch, we could go to some antique shops or art galleries or really anything up there, but Vance and Craig pretty much said there wasn’t anything interesting (hah!), so we went to brunch at a diner and then I took the train home. Nice trip.
A couple of weeks later, another group I used to work with (but local), Blue Hill Troupe, presented The Pirates of Penzance. Odd timing, as they tend to work their way through all the shows before repeating one and by rights should have repeated the other two of the Big Three (Mikado, Pinafore) first. Their last Pirates was in 2016 (I was in the pit). But they wanted an ‘excitement’ piece to proceed next year’s 100th season show, which must be Pinafore by tradition, and I guess everyone’s leery of Mikado right now, even though it’s a fantastic show.
Anyway, they did a steampunk version of the show, including an opening animation implying that the pirates had a flying (balloon-powered) pirate ship, very fun. I wish the steampunk thing had carried through the show a little more thoroughly throughout – that tends to be a problem with ‘concept’ shows, you get the concept thrown at you in a big way at the beginning and then it sort of peters out. I also thought there were some missed opportunities in the staging, but I enjoyed it in general, very much.
My buddy Marisa, who was my assistant for Patience five years ago, conducted and did a splendid job. I have too many friends in the cast and orchestra to cover everyone, but special mention goes to Chaz’s Frederic – a long and strenuous tenor role he played beautifully, David’s MG Stanley (very funny, and of course very different from the Samuel he played last time), and Martin’s chorus pirate/policeman. I had tickets to see the other cast of principals too, but ended up not being able to make the performance.
Marisa got us tickets to a Carnegie Hall presentation of Iolanthe, featuring Broadway actors and an orchestra conducted by Ted Sperling (Master Voices). This was semi-staged, with the chorus largely on chairs in the back, and the principals playing in front of the orchestra.
The performance was a delight. Sperling clearly loves and respects the material, which was presented with trust and very little over-the-top unneeded goofery. Lyrics were presented on a screen in the back, and often ‘self-documented’ – like they explained unfamiliar words like “madavadi” and who Captain Shaw is – and part of the delight was watching audience members not familiar with the show react to the often hilarious lyrics. They loved “Bow, bow, ye lower middle classes”.
Strephon and Phyllis, not really household names, were both excellent, especially Phyllis. David Garrison, Jason Danieley, Santino Fontana and Christine Ebersole were all fine without being spectacular. Philip Boykin, one of those central-casting “Ol’ Man River” African-American basses, was Private Willis and was just perfect. He sang the crap out of it, and is handsome as hell – you can well imagine why the Fairy Queen wants to ‘fall down and worship that man’.
So that was a very pleasant surprise and I’ll definitely go to the next one.
Last weekend I went down to Baltimore to sing in a QWERT (our community’s term for a gathering where you just sing through a bunch of shows with no rehearsal, but much hamming). My buddy Erica has been producing BaltiQWERTs for quite a while now, often a couple of times a year. We did Trial, Iolanthe, Sorcerer, Yeomen and Pinafore. (You’ll note that this was my second Yeomen and third Iolanthe within a few months.) Again, because this was a party of amateurs, actual reviews would not be appropriate, but I’ll point out some fun bits.
- The guy who sang The Learned Judge and the Lord Chancellor turned out to be someone I did Pirates and Patience with back in 1986 with Baltimore’s local company – nice to get reacquainted with him again, very talented guy.
- My buddy Tracy was there – we’d reconnected at a previous BaltiQWERT. She’d been Fruma Sarah and understudy Hodel in the Fiddler I music-directed in Bethesda in 1985. (!!!)
- My buddy Will, who’s the guy who produced, directed and starred in Utopia just a couple of months ago (and who’s doing Pinafore next month) did several roles, including, notably, a terrific Fairy Queen down an octave.
- There was a young lady from DC who not only did a lovely and appropriate Iolanthe, but also a hilarious feisty (and far too old a role for her) Dame Carruthers.
- My friend Bob from Ohio, who I’d befriended last time I was there, and who I had dinner with after (along with his wife), sang an excellent Strephon and Captain Corcoran. It had not occurred to me to put my hat in the ring for Strephon at my age, but Bob is twenty years older than I am and did a marvelous job. At these sort of events, you can get away with it.
- I sang Sir Marmaduke, always fun, and the Lieutenant. Both went well, although I wished I’d had more time to relearn the trio. The Sangazure and I had a great time with the duet, and we got lots of unsolicited “that was great!”s afterward.
I will blog far more about that Baltimore weekend later, much to discuss.
What else? Susan and I went to the Big Apple Corps’s spring concert, which was all music from Studio Ghibli films. I have only seen two (Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle) but loved them and it’s always been on my list to see My Neighbor Totoro and all the others. Anyway, I had no idea whether an entire evening of movie music from one specific slice of film would work, but it was totally delightful. The band (which is huge now) played very well. Some of the performers dressed up as the movie characters, including the conductor. It was a great deal of fun and a great success.
I also went to see (again) The Play That Goes Wrong, which we’d seen on Broadway a few years ago, and thought would be fun to revisit off-Broadway with a cheap ticket. I was correct. It’s very funny. I need to go back to watching that company’s TV show, which I’ve seen some episodes of(C, for some reason, didn’t find it hilarious) and then go see Peter Pan Goes Wrong, currently on Broadway.
Upcoming: I’m producing a concert of Ruddigore at the G&S Society on Monday, a dry run for this summer. I’ll be in the orchestra for Will’s Pinafore. And then I’ll be head-down in prep for the real Ruddigore in August, but will probably grab a few more cheap tickets for shows when I’m in the office.