news 4 days ago

Gilbert & Sullivan troupe has a 'Song to Sing, O'

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla. — Jay Handelman Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.

Oct. 17-- Oct. 17--Every few years, the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players come to Sarasota's Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall to present one of the satirical operettas that have made the work of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan so enduring. That usually means one of the duo's best-known shows, including "The Pirates of Penzance," "HMS Pinafore" or "The Mikado."

But this year, with the coronavirus keeping the touring company at a safe distance, the performers will get to share a wider variety of Gilbert and Sulllivan music in a virtual concert presentation it calls "I Have a Song to Sing, O."

It features a cast of seven principal performers from NYGSP singing 17 songs, including numbers from less-frequently performed works such as "Patience," "Ruddigore," "Iolanthe" and "The Yeomen of the Guard."

"There are some silver linings to the playbook right now," said David Wannen, a singer who also serves as executive director of the company. "It has been a very creative time that we could find ways to perform for our patrons and give them a different access to the material, bring it to life at home, and use things around the house. It's been an interesting change up of values."

To keep performers safe, singers (aside from those who might be married or live together) were recorded separately. "It's very labor intensive to set up the camera, get the right shot, get the audio together and then get the right takes."

Wannen said the songs were filmed in different places across the country as performers returned to their homes or hometowns when the pandemic shut down their tour schedule.

"The separation is one of the things we really had to overcome," Wannen said. "There was a lot of choreography and directorial meetings. There are specific things we do together and we wanted to give this a sense of direction."

The program that is being offered to Van Wezel patrons was commissioned by Redlands Bowl Performing Arts in the California desert and Wannen said the organization gave permission for the Players to make the concert available to presenters everywhere.

"The video we will be premiering is tailored to the Van Wezel audience with a custom greeting from us to them," he said.

The coronavirus has had a devastating impact on performing arts organizations around the world. Wannen said the Gilbert and Sullivan group had a lot of plans, with upcoming productions of "The Gondoliers," "Pinafore" and a spring 2021 tour of "Penzance." The group was talking with the Van Wezel about presenting its updated and acclaimed production of "The Mikado" in 2022. That operetta has created concerns because of its portrayal of Japanese characters and traditions. Wannen said the company's new version finds a way to get to the heart of the story and not offend people.

Gilbert, the librettist, and Sullivan, the composer, created 14 comic operas in the Victorian era between 1871 and 1896, poking fun at politics and societal norms in a way that has made them enduring even to modern audiences.

"The repertoire offers plenty of story diversity, character diversity and opportunities for creative expression," Wannen said. "There are not that many companies dedicated to one repertoire, there is no Rodgers and Hammerstein rep company. Those things are produced by Broadway producers. It's a creative, fun place to be."

And how does it speak to contemporary audience?

"It's just joyous and we need to raise spirits now. When you see our virtual show, your spirits can be low but by the time it's over, you're laughing, you're enjoying, there's that twinkle-in-the-eye feeling," he said.

That's because of their philosophy, which is "don't take things too seriously. Life is absurd. Let's poke fun at it and make fun of our everyday lives. Gilbert avoided being overly specific to any specific time or place to it speaks to us now."

An online concert of songs by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan presented by the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players. Premieres at 7 p.m. Oct. 24 and will be available for about two weeks afterward through Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, vanwezel.org. Tickets are $25.

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