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Capitol Hill Arts Workshop - ARCHIVE
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August 3 - 12, 2006
The Gondoliers

Running time 2:30 - one intermission
Gilbert and Sullivan's fourth most popular comic opera
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The charm of this high-spirited production is that everyone on stage is having so very much fun that they are almost challenging the audience not to have just as much. It may not be the best sung Gondoliers anyone has ever heard, in fact the quality of the singing ranges from not very good to quite satisfactory but never really goes any higher than that. But the performances are so very energetic, so bright and so just plain good fun that the evening goes by in a blur of funny moments. With a vigorous on-stage orchestra of four and a cast of eighteen, the tiny playing space at CHAW is constantly alive with humor and song, and director Jill Strachan keeps the story telling clear so the audience can follow the typically convoluted plot that marked Gilbert great librettos. This is the sixth year that the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered Arts Consortium has taken the stage at CHAW and they - and their audiences - are having a fine time.

Storyline: In Venice, two gondoliers select brides and head off to get married. An impoverished Spanish Grandee arrives with his wife, his daughter and his drummer. It seems that when his daughter was just a babe, she was married in absentia to the prince of Baritaria, a country where the king has just died. As a result, the grandee's daughter can now be revealed to be the new King's wife and, thus, the Queen of Barataria. The problem is that the young prince was raised by a gondolier who drank so much he mixed up his own son and the prince he was to raise. Until the nurse who cared for the children in infancy arrives to identify the royal one no one knows which of the gondoliers is a King and which is a commoner.

The piece dates from 1889, toward the end of the run of fabulous successes that Richard D'Oyly Carte coaxed out of would-be classical composer Arthur Sullivan, who always thought that light comic opera was beneath him, and William Schwenk Gilbert who had no interest in serious grand opera. The two men fought and complained and generally harrumphed their way through the creation of one gem after another from Trial by Jury (1875) HMS Pinafore (1878) and, The Pirates of Penzance (1880) to, of course, The Mikado (1885). Gilbert had at least tried to accommodate Sullivan's preference for the serious with their previous work, The Yeomen of the Guard. Here, however, they return to that staple of their work, the truly comic opera where the plot is a highly stylized exercise in absurdity, the lyrics are filled with wit and wordplay and the music is gloriously lovely, inventive and chipper.

Jill Strachan has again assembled a troupe of good sports to cavort on this stage. As a co-production with the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered Arts Consortium, it isn't surprising that there's a bit of gender blending going on, but the key to casting seems to have been the ability to portray the role and sing the songs without any clever semi-hidden meanings to the switches. Lynne Barstow  handles the tongue twisters given to the Spanish Grandee (most notably "In Enterprise Of Martial Kind") as well as the haughty official's high comedy with energy and flair. "His" drummer, Louis, is played by Amanda Aubrey, while the two Gondoliers are played/sung by the pair of Jane Hoffman and and Dean Reichard, who go about their duties with a suitable sense of nonsense.  Don Alhambra Del Bolero, the Grand Inquisitor of Venice, is a prancing Steve Spar.

The company inserts some distinctly contemporary references, which is both traditional and justified for Gilbert and Sullivan shows, since they always had some contemporary targets when they opened. They don't take it to extreme, however, letting Mr. Gilbert's own wit shine through. Still, the collection of parading headpieces patterned around Washington DC landmarks (The Capitol, the White House, the Washington Monument) is a kick.

Music by Arthur Sullivan. Book and lyrics by William S. Gilbert. Directed by Jill Strachan, Music Direction by Lenard Starks, Choreographed by Alvin Mayes.  Penny Duff (costumes) Heather Dilatush (hat design) Kent Forrester (lights) Roshani Kothari (photographer) Catherine Simile or Scott Weaver (stage manager). Cast: Sue Abromaitis, Amanda Aubrey, Lynne Barstow, TC Duong, Jane Hoffman, Sharmila P. Khare, Rick Mauery, Kim Mifflin, Pax, Ilene Photos, Leslie Pionke, Dean Richard, Gillian Sowray, Steve Spar, Lorraine Starks, Katie Weeks, Kate Werwie, Rachel Young. Musicians: Michael Arichea, Kenneth Stilwell,  Taka, Jeff Thurston.

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August 5 - 14, 2004

Reviewed August 5
Running time 2:15 - one intermission

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The cast assembled by CHAW and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Arts Consortium have a great deal of fun with Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera  They use it as the jumping off point for comments on everything from the lack of voting representation in Congress for the District of Columbia, the encroachments of "a second hand government agency" known as the "bureau" of Homeland Security, and the "current occupant" of the White House. Patience has never been one of the strongest of Gilbert and Sullivan's works and the liberties they take don't actually help it a great deal, but the tuneful score gives them something to fall back on when their conceits run a bit dry.

Storyline: The attraction of poetic genius is lampooned as two poets -- one an overly refined effete and the other more robustly romantic -- play with the affections of "single available persons" including a chorus of "rapturous persons." At the center of the action is a bachelorette by the name of Patience.

Patience is second -- and possibly third-rate Gilbert and Sullivan. It was written fairly rapidly in 1881 on the heels of the twin phenomena HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance, both of which were international hits of unprecedented scale. Patience, on the other hand, was just a moderate success, reflecting the fact that, while Gilbert's book was charmingly witty, Sullivan churned out his score in about two weeks time. Of course, even two weeks of Sullivan's work was worth hearing, and there are a number of up-tempo gems in the score. Gilbert's book lampooned the latest fad of the time, the "cool" aesthetes of society -- those opera loving, poetry reciting weaklings like Oscar Wilde. By gender-switching the poets, this production looses a lot of the bite of Gilberts parody. But, it doesn't seem to matter much. After all, he was going after what he saw as super-effeminate effetes, not a terribly prevalent category in today's world of hip-hop and rap stars.

Catherine Simile is the title character, holding the stage throughout most of the evening with a sense of confidence and a fine, clear voice. She makes the most of Sullivan's melodies and the remnants of Gilbert's lyrics. The competing poets are Carol E. Wheeler, who starts off a bit timidly but builds nicely as the evening progresses, and Ann Claassen, who struggles with the part, but wins out in the end. Among the rapturous persons of note is Sue Abrmaitis who brings a strong stage presence to the piece.

The real strength of the evening, however, is the three member band consisting of music director G. Paul Heins on piano, Amanda Aubrey on bass, and most particularly Anja Maguire on flute, piccolo and kazoo. Her consistently lilting woodwind work carries more than one scene over rough spots and anchors the melodies when the vocals tend to wander. The fun (and there is lots of it) takes place on a nearly plain stage with just a mural (painted by Heather Dilatush) to one side and the trio of accompanists on the other. Simple costumes complete the atmosphere.

Music by Arthur Sullivan. Book and lyrics by W.S. Gilbert. Adapted by Jill Strachan and Carol Wheeler. Stage direction by Jill Strachan. Music direction by C. Paul Heins. Choreography by Alvin Mayes. Design: Heather Dilatush (mural) Kent Forrester (lights) Peter Edwards (photography) Megan Cheek (stage manager). Cast: Daryl Anderson, Sue Abromaitis, Lynne Barstow, Loren Bray, Ann Claassen, TC Duong, Navan Nguyen, Leslie Pionke, Dean Reichard, Catherine Simile, Carol E. Wheeler.

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July 31 - August 9, 2003
The Mikado

Reviewed August 1
Running time 2 hours 15 minutes
Price $15

Often the task of a reviewer is to tell the reader if the production is “good.” Well “good” wasn’t the point of this spoofing concert style staging of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most famous spoof. At least not if you define “good” as good singing, good acting and good playing. Instead, it was about having a great time and everyone in the cast and orchestra as well as everyone in the audience had a great deal of fun.

Storyline: Set in Titipu DC in order to allow locally topical jokes, the story unfolds of the child of the ruler of the land who flees to avoid marriage to an ugly hag. Adopting the disguise of a second trombone player, the child falls in love with Yum-Yum who is, herself, slated to marry the town’s “Lord High Executioner” who is under pressure to actually execute someone. When the Mikado comes to town looking for his child he is greeted with the manufactured news of the execution of his child, which news can only be un-done through a marvelously improbable set of circumstances. 

This “loving adaptation” of The Mikado is a joint project of CHAW and GLBT (the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Arts Consortium). Together, they have assembled a cast of 19 and an orchestra of 16 in the tight confines of CHAW’s black box theater on 7th Street SW to wend their way through the joyous high jinks created by master comic writer W.S. Gilbert and composer Sir Arthur Sullivan in 1885.

If it wasn’t Gilbert and Sullivan for purists, that’s OK for there are plenty of other places to catch The Mikado in more reverential productions. And besides, taking liberties with G&S is a time honored tradition in part because G&S took such liberties with theatrical conventions when they wrote these fantastical musical farces filled with social and political commentary. Director Jill Strachan came up with script changes to set the events in Titipu DC so as to work in jokes with a point of view about home rule, homeland security and inside-the-beltway issues while Carol Wheeler inserted some of the same material where the lyrics allowed.

While enthusiasm rather than musical ability was obviously the key casting criteria, some of the performances are a lot of fun. Sarah Wedaman has a great stage presence and sparks an already sparking energy level with her “Yum Yum” and she is paired with Lynne Barstow as Nanki-Poo to make a fine pair of lovers that announce their departure for Canada. Kerry Jones sings Pish-Tush’s material very well and both Steve Spar as Secretary of Homeland Security (and almost everything else) Pooh-Bah and Dean Reichard as his Lord High Executioner cum taylor, Ko-Ko enter into the spirit with vigor.

Written by W.S. Gilbert. Music by Arthur Sullivan. Adaptation by Jill Strachan and Carol Wheeler. Stage direction by Jill Strachan. Music direction/arrangements by K. Scott Barker. Choreography by Alvin Mayes. Design: James Ochmanek (set) Mona Corneiro (properties) Kent Forrester (lights). Cast: Sue Abromaitis, Dayrl Anderson, Lynne Barstow, Marty Cusato, Marie Britt, TC Duong, David Hamill, Drew Hertler, Kerry Jones, Rachel Maden, Elizabeth McCain, Pierre Mendoza, Navan Nguyen, Pax, Leslie Pionke, Dean Reichard, Steve Spar, Sara Wedaman, Carol. E. Wheeler.