Sad and sorry is our lot.
Gilbert and Sullivan productions have become an endangered species in New York. In the not too distant past, the city hosted frequent visits from the D’Oyly Carte, which preached the Savoyard gospel lovingly from on high. Lesser companies filled gaps between seasons. The New York City Opera staged large-scale efforts of its own.
Now we just have the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players – aka NYGASP – sporadically complemented by the quasi-amateurish Blue Hill Troupe. On Saturday, NYGASP invaded the little auditorium at the College of Criminal Justice with a rare object all sublime: The Sorcerer.
Written in 1877, it represents the third G&S collaboration and offers previews of coming attractions: vocal-character casting, crazed patter, Victorian satire and grand-opera burlesque. Success at the time was modest. Even at 135 the piece remains primarily a lure for the connoisseur.
And so it was here. One had to admire the tunes and the plot convolutions, even if the tunes vacillated in quality and the convolutions resisted neat resolution – judged by the later G&S standards. One had to applaud a high-spirited ensemble and, as always, the bravado of Albert Bergeret, who conducts, directs, arranges, produces and, for all we know, irons the costumes and sweeps the stage.
Still, it was hard to overlook certain inequities: rudimentary scenery, grab-bag costumes, a scratchy orchestra and fussy dance routines. Also problematic: nearly everyone seemed encouraged to mug rather than act. Gilbert always instructed his players to sustain earnestness even while mouthing absurdities. Somehow that crucial message has gotten lost.
The somewhat uneven NYGASP cast was dominated by Stephen O’Brien, a cuddly rather than sinister sorcerer who elegantly skimmed the traps of “My name is John Wellington Wells”. Richard Alan Holmes registered nice mock-dignity as Vicar Daly, and even mustered a reasonable facsimile of a trill. Daniel Greenwood sounded ardent, acted arch as the tenor-hero, sweetly counterbalanced by Kimilee Bryant as his slightly shrill betrothed. Keith Jurosko exuded crisp savoir-faire as old Marmaduke.