McConnell, Stephen Quint, Colm Fitzmaurice, Angela Smith, and David Wannen.
Carol I’ve Got a Little Twistgg, Photography
by Deirdre Donovan
Gilbert and Sullivan with a Broadway twist? Well, that’s
precisely the spirit and vibe behind the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players
(NYGASP) new production of “I’ve Got a Little Twist.” The company made their
debut at Feinstein’s / 54 Below cabaret in midtown Manhattan, with Gilbert and
Sullivan’s hallmark patter songs taking on a sparkling neon glow.
Conceived, written, and directed by veteran company member David
Auxier, the cabaret show featured five NYGASPers: Sarah Caldwell Smith, Angela
Christine Smith, Daniel Greenwood, Stephen Quint, and Wannen, with Auxier
serving as emcee. Artistic director Albert Bergeret, who was mingling with the
diners before the show began, once described this cabaret show as “taking place
at the intersection of Broadway and Gilbert and Sullivan Street.” And in its
latest iteration at 54 Below, that well-indexes this whimsical piece that fuses
the famous team’s songs with popular hits from the Great White Way. The audience
seemed to be comprised of mostly Gilbert and Sullivan aficionados and cabaret
habitués. The person, in fact, seated next to me shared, between bites of his
salad, that he had been part of the committee that awarded the cabaret show a
Bistro Award back in 2010.
Okay, that was then, and this is now. So how did the current show
stack up? Very pleasingly indeed! It fittingly began with Auxier holding a
list that unfolded vertically with rows after row of pleats. It served, not
only as a nod to Ko-Ko's List Song ("As Someday It May Happen") from The
Mikado, but explains the inspiration for the show’s title as well. The
line that the List Song turns on--“I’ve Got a Little List”—has been given a
twist—quite literally here.
And, speaking of twists, this version of the show is full of
them. Auxier has culled twenty-two musical selections (in whole or in part)
from the Gilbert and Sullivan canon along with snippets from sixteen musical
theatre standards. Yes, it was a fusion of the crème de la crème of Gilbert
and Sullivan’s patter songs with Broadway’s beloved show tunes. Performing on
a postage-stamp sized stage, the company demonstrated that they were no
slouches and could easily straddle the two musical traditions, planting one
foot firmly in the Victorian era and the other squarely in Obama’s.
Although this was a real cabaret-style show, Auxier, as emcee,
frequently folded in some education on Gilbert and Sullivan’s art. Even his
introduction of the six artists on stage doubled as a G & S mini-primer, as
he identified each singer (including himself) by voice range and special
character type. So here’s the skinny on the sextet: Angela Christine Smith is
an alto and “plays fat old women—always.” Sarah Caldwell Smith is a
soprano who simply “wants to get married.” Daniel Greenwood is a tenor who
“loves conflict.” Stephen Quint is a comic baritone who—no surprise
here--comically patters. Wannen is the leading baritone, who interrupted
Auxier’s introduction of him, to add that his character traditionally arrives
in the operetta’s Act 2 (and turns the plot topsy-turvy). And, last but not
least, Auxier self-described himself as a baritone, which he soon substantiated
by his rich vocal performance during the show.
Following the introductions, the ensemble launched into a
cross-section of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most memorable patter songs. There was
“A wand’ring minstrel I” from The Mikado, “I’m called little Buttercup”
from H. M. S. Pinafore, “I’ve got a little list” from The Mikado,
and “For I am a pirate king” from The Pirates of Penzance—to mention
only a few. The artists later chimed in with Broadway tunes--and jazzed them
up Gilbert-and-Sullivan style. Remember “Everybody ought to have a maid” from
Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum? Or
how about that classic “I’m getting married in the morning” from Lerner and
Loewe’s My Fair Lady? Or Kander and Ebb’s title song from Cabaret?
Ticketholders, with discerning ears, may well have marveled at how seamlessly
the Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs transitioned into Broadway tunes. But is
it so surprising, after all? According to a program note, Gilbert and Sullivan
are wrongly pigeonholed as only creators of light opera. Indeed, they were
true pioneers and the precursors for today’s musical theatre writers.
If you think that this review is mere hype for their new cabaret
act, my advice to you is to go to their next production at the Skirball Center
in December, when the NYGASPers put on a new production of Pirates of Penzance.
Incidentally, the company had originally planned to stage The Mikado
but decided it was the wrong cultural moment to present this Asian-themed
opera, especially after a New York Times article this fall (“Debating ‘Otello,’
Blackface and Casting Trends”) focused on the growing trend for colorblind
casting. The article had a photo of the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players
performing The Mikado in 2010 and cited the company had “decided to pass
on the revival of the show.”
But say what you will, the NYGASPers are finishing the year on a
high note. And they seem to be gaining, along with their occasional bruises, a
better sense of how to present the living legacy of Gilbert and Sullivan with a
vital pulse today. And let’s just say that “I’ve Got a Little Twist” is sure
proof that in each Gilbert and Sullivan work is the very (early) model of a
modern major musical.
One-night only performance on December 1st.
At Feinstein’s / 54 Below, located at 254 W. 54th St.,
For more information on upcoming shows of the New York Gilbert and
Sullivan Players, visit www.nygasp.org.
For more information on Feinstein’s / 54 Below, visit www.54below.com
Running time of show: 90 minutes with no intermission.