BWW Reviews: Strong Voices Perk Up TAM's Gilbert and Sullivan
As has been the tradition for quite a few seasons, Theater at Monmouth ends its season with a production of one of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operettas. This year's choice, The Sorcerer, is a frothy, pleasant entertainment enhanced by the strong vocal merits of much of the cast. The pristine neo- baroque gem of a theatre in Cumston Hall is the perfect venue for singing. The acoustic - unmiked - is crisp, clear, focused, and allows for the ringing delivery and coloratura fun of Sullivan's music.
The Sorcerer is a whimsical tale in which a love potion administered to the villagers of Ploverleigh wreaks havoc on the wedding day of the local squire, Alexis Pointdextre, and his beloved, Aline Sangazure. Mismatched, lovesick couples romp through the play with madcap frenzy, as Sullivan's libretto references Midsummer Night's Dream and Donizetti's Elixir of Love. Directed by Bill Van Horn, the production moves at a sprightly pace and makes the most of the small space, though the relatively large numbers of chorus and principals on stage makes it difficult for choreographer Adam P. Blais to do much more than stage economical period movement with stylized hand gestures.
Rew Tippin's set design has an elegant fairy book feel to it, especially when the midnight sky turns starry in the moonlight, and he is aided by Jim Alexander's effective lighting design. Michelle Handley's costume design opts largely for a palette of earth tones for the villagers with darker, richer colors for the principals.
The spark in the production, however, comes from the excellent music direction of Rebecca Caron leading the four other musicians from the piano. The small ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, keyboard and piano translates the Sullivan's score remarkably effectively and even manages a period instrument sound.
In a play which offers more musical than dramatic challenges, the cast is also blessed with some strong voices. Jamie Beth Weist displays an impressive command of coloratura and a clarion soprano as Aline. Melissa Bills brings ample tone, a well-focused soprano, and a feisty presence to the role of Constance, and Rebecca Beck's well-modulated mezzo-soprano gives substance to Lady Sangagzure. Ben Mulgrew as Alexis, delivers an uneven vocal performance - evidencing a pleasant lyric tone in the middle register, but experiencing pitch problems in the upper, and David Handley as his father, Sir Marmaduke, is overparted vocally, though he brings an appealing quality to the character. In the title role of the Sorcerer, Mark S. Cartier, seems the most at home in the trademark patter numbers of Gilbert and Sullivan, and he plays the old charlatan with a wicked comic turn. Perhaps the most complete performance came from Ryan Simpson as the vicar, Dr. Daly. Simpson captures to perfection the bachelor clergyman's pompous narcissistic prissiness and even manages to evoke the non-naturalistic Victorian acting style to perfection. The remainder of the supporting roles and the well-cast chorus all contribute to the sparkle of the production.
Though TAM generally does only one musical a year, the strong musical values of this production and the ideal setting of Cumston Hall make one long for some other ventures into the classic music theatre repertoire.
Photos COurtesy of Theater at Monmouth, Andy Tolman, photographer
The Sorcerer runs September 18-28, 2014 at the Theater at Monmouth, Cumston Hall, Monmouth, ME. Information at www.theateratmonmouth.org