Summer Savoyards have a hit

Reviewed by Tony Villecco

While W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan’s operetta ‘Ruddigore’ may not have as many familiar “hits” as some of their other collaborations, the Summer Savoyards’ opening night performance on July 8 proved both a delight visually and aurally.

Now in its 50th season, the local troupe proved once again why it has lasted so long and continues to produce exceptional community theater. The Savoyards traditionally present the fas- paced, comedic and melodious shows with community residents, almost all amateur performers, but very strong actors and singers to boot.

While the story may be a bit hard to swallow for today’s audiences, from broken curses to mixed identities to family portraits actually springing to life, this community theater had no difficulty in its quest to entertain.

John Starks as the love-smitten Robin seemed as if he had been parented by both Gilbert and Sullivan, so fine was his acting. His gestures, accent and expressions were spot on, and he was delightful to watch. He also is a very good singer though a shade less effective than some of the other principals.

Gregory Keeler had one of the finest tenor voices and his cockney accent was helpful in delineating the role of sailor Richard Dauntless. A fine actor, he too has a flair for the comedic, and his enjoyment with the role was evident throughout.

As the fair maiden Rose Maybud (you know, always the bridesmaid and never the bride), soprano Caitlin McNichol sang with a lovely, clear and true soprano. A strong actress, she was very funny when consulting her “book on etiquette” especially when dealing with the men in her life.

As this community is blessed with a lot of local talent, it was of no surprise that all secondary roles were equally as strong. Kathy Starks was delightful as Mad Margaret. Not only was she totally convincing as the more than slightly delusional but likable crazy lady, she has a very unique voice which lacks in tonal beauty but certainly not in strength.

Rebecca Houghton returns to the area after some time. (She was a former voice student at Binghamton University as well as with Tri-Cities Opera.) Her gentle portrayal of the virginal Dame Hannah was a lesson in restraint. But a true standout was Nicholas Tyler as Sir Despard. His very energetic and funny nastiness made him almost likable. A fine actor, he also sang well depicting the epitome of evil as one will only see in Gilbert and Sullivan.

Other roles done well included Joan Raube-Wilson’s Ruth, Jana Kucera sprightly Zorah, Edward Houghton’s Sir Roderick and Samuel Westover’s Old Adam.

Special mention needs to be made of the fine chorus of bridesmaids, which carries a lot of the show’s first act, and the very fine community orchestra led with aplomb by Barb Fuller, the show’s music director. As always, the clever staging was devised by Wm. Clark Snyder with lovely period costumes by Stephen M. Dell’Aversano and Vincent Majka.

The colorful and welcoming sets were designed by Elisabeth Coolidge with some soft and stunning lighting by William Osborne. David P. Wiktorek did a masterful job as technical director. The show continues through Sunday at the Anderson Center Chamber Hall on the Binghamton University campus.

SHOWTIMES: 8 p.m. Friday, July 9, and  Saturday, July 10; 3 p.m. Sunday, July 11. Tickets: $18 (Friday is Family/Alumni night with all seats $2 off).  Tickets may be charged online, and a full cast list may be seen at  www.SummerSavoyards.org,  or call the box office at  (607) 777-4237.

(Funding for the Summer Savoyards production of “Ruddigore” is provided in part by a Project Grant from the United Cultural Fund, a program of the Broome County Arts Council. )

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2 Responses to "Summer Savoyards have a hit"

  1. cyberbassdave

    We attended Sunday’s matinee, and I must beg to differ with Tony on a couple of points. Although not a professionally trained opera singer like Caitlin McNichol, Kathy Starks, whose range is different, certainly does not lack in “tonal beauty.” Actually, the one voice which did not fit the cast, as fine as her classic opera soprano is, was McNichol. There is a vast difference between classical opera and Gilbert and Sullivan. My major disappointment with the singing was that the orchestra was too loud, often overpowering the soloists and even the full chorus. It was not surprising, in a stage production of lively lyrics, that there should be some moments when singers and orchestra struggled to stay together. The trio of John Starks, (Robin), Kathy Starks (Margaret), and Nicholas Tyler (Despard) did not allow the orchestra to lose them, however, in the typically trippingly tongue-twisting G&S lyrics of “My Eyes are Fully Open,” which conclude: “This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter
    Isn’t generally heard, and if it is it doesn’t matter…matter…matter.”

    Edward Houghton was somewhat underpowered as chief of the ghosts Sir Roderick, even when singing a duet with his real-life wife Rebecca, playing Dame Hannah. Samuel Westover, as Robin’s manservant Adam, added a good bass to J. Starks’ “barinor” (Starks is exploring a transition from tenor to baritone these days) for their duet “I Once Was as Meek.”

    The acting was priceless. Greg Keeler’s expressions perfectly portrayed an impish, cocky, swaggering British limey with a roving eye for the wenches. Kathy Starks was frighteningly convincing as Mad Margaret chasing butterflies and falling down a well. She’s starting to get type-cast, having played a witch from Macbeth in a Madrigal Choir concert last October. Her line in “Ruddigore” that all who sing choruses in public are mad will be excused. 😉
    John Starks really kicked it up a notch in Act II when he and Tyler switched hero/villain roles, and Starks was tortured with agonies imposed by the shades of his past. One wonders what the neighbors must have thought if John and Kathy rehearsed these roles at home! What made the acting particularly engaging was the byplay among characters when others were the main subject.

    Set and costume design was excellent, especially the portraits of the ghosts and the dresses of the bridesmaids.

    In the Anderson Center lobby was a large poster containing hundreds, if not thousands, of names of those who have been a part of Summer Savoyards this past half century, a fitting tribute to one of the area’s unique and favorite musical theater groups.

    Dave Schriber, CyberBassDave

  2. Hi Dave:
    I think the only areas we disagreed on were regarding the two principals, McNichol and Starks. Otherwise, I said pretty much the same as you did.
    As a reviewer, I always try to err on the side of caution, particularly in a community-based production as compared to a “professional” one. As with McNichol, I personally have studied and performed as a classical singer (tenor) all my adult life. So when I go to a performance I believe I have a pretty good “ear” as to what is working and what isn’t. But as a reviewer, we have to consider the production(s) as a whole; was it done by a professional company using all professionally trained singers? What did the individual actors/singers bring to the production in way of originality, quality, excitement, commitment? What were the age of the singers? This is often disregarded which frustrates me terribly. A 20-year-old soprano will NOT sound like a veteran soprano at 35 or 40.
    As far as there being a difference vocally between opera and G&S, I do have to disagree. It is still essentially classical trained singing. Both opera and operetta such as G&S use legit voices and while the demands are indeed lighter in G&S, there are equivalent roles in opera which are not as daunting for a young voice. Actually, many of the local opera singers here as well as elsewhere started with G&S lead roles before graduating to the higher demands of the operatic stage. Tenor Richard Leech comes to mind.
    I would have been sorely disappointed if a soprano less than McNichol’s vocal quality had been performing.
    As for Starks, again, this is my opinion as a writer. I did not feel she had the loveliest of voices by any means, but felt she made up for it with great acting and exemplary projection.
    While I may agree the orchestra was loud at times, one has to again consider the criticism and if mentioned, would there have been any solution to alter the problem anyway? Especially with the size of the theater, the acoustics, the level of playing? The ability of the conductor?
    I can’t stand a reviewer who nit picks as we are only giving our own opinion in hopes of a fair appraisal. It’s an audience who ultimately can decide to stay or walk out on on a performance. At any rate, I did enjoy your comments and the fact we “mostly” agreed.