Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
The Summer Savoyards’ The Sorcerer created magic last night (Friday, July 14) in the Anderson Center Chamber Hall at Binghamton University. One of Gilbert & Sullivan’s lesser-known comic operas, presented here as a “staged concert,” didn’t skimp on much. It featured the full-length score and script, but minimal sets and costumes. The show is full of humor and pathos, timely social commentary, beautiful soaring voices and the spirited acting for which the company is known.
Now in their 57th year, the Savoyards are a local institution, relying on a talented volunteer cast and a creative crew.
The story in a nutshell: The plot of The Sorcerer is based on a Christmas story, “An Elixir of Love,” that Gilbert wrote for The Graphic magazine in 1876. A young man, Alexis, is obsessed with idea of love leveling all ranks and social distinctions. To promote his beliefs, he invites the proprietor of J.W. Wells & Co. Family Sorcerers to brew and distribute a love potion. This causes everyone in Alexis’ village to fall in love with the first person they see and results in the pairing of comically mismatched couples. In the end, Wells must sacrifice his life to break the spell.
The opera opened on Nov. 17, 1877, at the Opera Comique in London, where it ran for 178 performances. It was considered a success by the standards of that time and encouraged the collaborators to write their next operetta, H.M.S. Pinafore. The Sorcerer was revised for an 1884 revival, and that is the version usually performed today.
There wasn’t a weak actor or singer in the Savoyards’ production. Pacing was fast and attention-grabbing. From the leads to the chorus members, all displayed well-developed characters.
Gianna Chen, as Constance, plays the moody teenager role to the hilt. Her lyric soprano voice is lovely. Also a strong actor and singer (although a little long-in-the-tooth for the role), Gregory Keeler portrayed the idealistic but misguided swain Alexis. He gave the audience sweet renditions of two memorable melodies — “Love feeds on many kinds of food” and “Thou hast the power thy vaunted love.”
Tom Blake as a lovelorn vicar; Michelle Kearley Thompson as Alexis’ bride-to-be, Aline (with her well-trained, strong voice); the stiff upper-lipped Lady Sangazure (Christine Ryder), and salt-of-the-earth Mrs. Partlett (Jessica Pullis) are to be heralded for their musicality as well as their comedic talent.
But, undeniably, John H. Starks Jr., a.k.a. the sorcerer John Wellington Wells, stole the show. The only cast member in full period costume, he toss-offed a devilishly difficult, tongue-twisting patter song to perfection. And he diabolically manipulated everyone else in the cast, until at show’s end, he sacrificed his soul to save their love lives.
Hats off to stage director Wm. Clark Snyder, who always injects delightful bits of stage business into Summer Savoyards’ shows. Kudos to lighting designer Eric Adler, who brewed up some startling and unique lighting effects. And applause for the rest of the crew who make up the Summer Savoyards’ “village,” without whom the show could not go on.
At first, I rankled at the hodge-podge of outfits worn by the cast and chorus — everything from tuxedos and cocktail dresses to house frocks to blue jeans. But I soon realized they were costumes of a sort, suggesting class distinctions and pointing up the show’s take-away message: that love does NOT level all ranks and social distinctions. At least, not in Victorian British society.
The orchestra, placed upstage on stage (instead of in the pit), was an integral part of the show. The best orchestra for a Summer Savoyards’ show I’ve heard in years, the ensemble included many long-timers as well as a few newcomers. A mix of both professional and amateur musicians, the group played with verve and confidence. Just FYI: The cast kept an eagle eye on conductor/music director Sherri Strichman via a TV monitor placed at the front of the stage, so that singers and orchestra were never out of sync (often a problem with a pit orchestra).
Chorus members never get enough credit for their contribution, so I’m listing them here. The strong and spirited Sorcerer villagers include Sam Olmstead, David Sissenstein, Franklin Krongold, Miguel Aponte, Emalee Hyde, Trina Hurlbut, Dylan Ruffo, Rick Shumaker, Margaret Lyon Smith, Julia Kelly, Kaylee Tasber, Kristen Townsend and the youngest two, twins Kiernan and Grayden Kelly.
If your weekend could use a bit of magic, the show goes on at 7:30 p.m. today (July 15) and 3 p.m. Sunday (July 16). General admission tickets can be purchased at the Anderson Center box office or by calling (607) 777-2787. Weekend hours are 5 p.m. through opening curtain for evening performances and noon through curtain for matinee performances.