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April 11, 2012 6:00 pm
Here’s a how-de-do. The Collegiate Chorale, founded in 1941 by the great Robert Shaw, has sung for such titans as Toscanini, Beecham and Koussevitzky. James Bagwell, the current music director, ventured rarities of Rossini, Tippett and Bruckner earlier this season. On Tuesday, however, lighter muses took over with an extraordinarily funny and festive Mikado.
Gilbert and Sullivan used to be ubiquitous in New York. D’Oyly Carte visited regularly, and several professional companies offered stimulating alternatives. Now the Savoyard gospel is preached sporadically, always with lofty intentions yet often with amateurish limitations.
Under the circumstances, the Collegiate Chorale version proved doubly bracing. Ted Sperling conducted with affectionate, sympathetic verve and kept everyone dancing, prancing, ogling and miming with exceptional precision and style. A genuine symphony orchestra and massive chorus represented unprecedented luxuries, microphone distortion notwithstanding. And an inspired selection of Broadway stars – modelling modern mufti and sometimes reading the score – steadfastly avoided cliché indulgence.
Kelli O’Hara, cherished as Nelly Forbush in South Pacific, invested Yum-Yum with an irresistible air of sensuous purity. No ingénue manners or mannerisms for her. Lauren Worsham and Amy Justman provided saucy support as the other little maids from school.
Jason Danieley brought bel-canto suavity plus mock-boyish ardour to the romantic flights of Nanki-Poo. Christopher Fitzgerald transformed Ko-Ko into an adorably manic, almost Chaplinesque leprechaun. Although he found some of the comic patter (including a cleverly updated “little list”) rhythmically challenging, the lapses mattered little in context. Replacing the originally, unrealistically, scheduled Marilyn Horne, the wondrous Victoria Clark turned old Katisha into a delirious Madwoman of Titipu. Steve Rosen exuded a sweet aura of befuddled bonhomie as Pish-Tush.
The explorers of the lower vocal depths boomed cautiously. Jonathan Freeman, a Colonel-Blimpy Pooh-Bah, spoke more than he sang and understated the inherent pomposity. Chuck Cooper, the titular protagonist, giggled where tradition dictates a maniacal laugh and substituted joviality for comic terror. For better or worse (probably worse), a more humane Mikado never did in Japan exist.
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