Toronto Operetta Theatre opened a run of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance at the Jane Mallett Theatre last night. Bill Siva-Marin’s production is competent and very traditional with some strong performers in the key roles. It won’t leave you with any new insights into the piece but it’s a well executed production which is lots of fun and very funny in places. When I say traditional I mean pirates in pantomime pirate dress, maidens in some stereotypically Victorian maiden garb and a Major General in a cod colonial uniform. Tnere are the traditional mild updatings to the libretto including a couple of rather well crafted verses in the MG’s patter song that reference the Glorious Leader of our neighbour to the south. There are also a few nice touches. In the second act the MG spends much of the time clutching a bust of one of his purchased ancestors and the “catlike tread” scene is noisily anything but. That said, the choreography and blocking are pretty formulaic though there are some deft touches in the Personenregie. Mabel’s body language in Oh! Is there not one maiden breast? is worth a look.
Subscriptions are now on sale for Toronto Operetta Theatre. The line up has changed from the original spring announcement. There are still three shows but the run of Candide previously announced has been replaced with a single concert performance, with piano accompaniment of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. It’s at 3pm on November 1st. The main attraction (pun absolutely intended) is probably Greg Finney as Sir Joseph Porter KCB. There’s also Charlotte Knight as Josephine.
Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are such a stock staple of amateur dramatic societies in the English speaking world that one might think they were easy to stage. They are not. They are a tricky genre; entirely sui generic and strewn with as many pitfalls as the field at Bannockburn. The first and greatest is the primacy of the text and, embedded in that, W.S. Gilbert’s relentless guying of English Victorian society. A director really has to choose to go with that or come up with something really rather different. In Toronto Operetta Theatre’s new production of The Mikado director Guillermo Silva-Marin hasn’t really done either. There’s nothing very new in this production which seems to focus mostly on the visuals; streamer twirling and fancy fan work. One senses the mostly young cast have been left to develop their own characters without a whole lot of help. It’s a big ask and the result is that much of the time, even when the words are fully audible, one senses the players aren’t really aware of what and where the joke is. It’s no surprise then that it’s the veterans of the cast who get closest to the essence of the piece. Both David Ludwig as Pooh-Bah and Giles Tomkins as The Mikado perform with sly wit and excellent diction. The Katisha of Mia Lennox is quite idiomatic too but perhaps lacking a bit of bite.
And so is Michael Albano’s new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore which opened last night at the MacMillan Theatre. It’s been a long time since the UoT Opera Division did G&S but it was worth the wait. Fred Perruzza’s straight forward unit set was really brought to life by a fast paced and lively production. From the very beginning of the overture we had members of the crew cavorting and dancing (Choreographer Anna Theodosakis) in a manner perhaps owing more to Broadway than D’Oyly Carte and the better for it! The set, a quarter deck with a gallery, provided cabin doors and traps in the deck for characters to come and go (including conductor Sandra Horst appearing from “below” to take her bow). And of coming and going and dancing there was plenty. There were some more than decent dancers in the chorus too.
Next week the University of Toronto Opera Division will be staging HMS Pinafore; the first Gilbert and Sullivan at the MacMillan for 25 years. There are four performances; at 7.30pm on the 27th, 28th and 29th and a 2.30pm matinée on the 30th. Following UoT practice it is double cast. The cast for the 27th and 29th includes Charles Sy, a finalist in the COC’s Centre Stage next week as well, and Karine White. They are probably the two singers from UoT who have most impressed me this year and are definitely worth hearing. Michael Albano directs and Sandra Horst conducts. Tickets are $40 adult, $25 senior, $10 student.
Toronto Operetta Theatre and Toronto Masque Theatre have announced their respective 2014/15 season line ups. TOT will present three shows. The first is a zarzuela; Federico Chueca’s La gran via. Jose Hernandez conducts and the cast includes Margie Bernal, Fabian Arciniegas, Pablo Benitez and Diego Catala. There’s one performance on November 2nd. The Christmas show will be Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Singers include Lucia Cesaroni, Mia Lennox, David Ludwig and Giles Tomkins with Derek Bate conducting. There are six performances scheduled between December 27th and January 4th. Finally, and perhaps most exciting, is a revival of Victor Davies’ 2008 piece Ernest, the Importance of Being. It’s based on the Wilde play and will star Jean Stilwell as Lady Bracknell. Larry Beckwith conducts. There will be four performances on April 29th and May 1st to 3rd. All three shows will be directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin and will be staged at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. (www.stlc.com)