|Scrooge and Gilbert & Sullivan by Amore Opera at the Riverside Theater|
We think of creativity as the ability to take things that are known and to combine them in a new way to produce something novel. That concept can be applied accurately to the work of art created by Nathan Hull, Artistic Director of Amore Opera.
The multi-talented Mr. Hull has directed his own creation for the first time and directed it with his customary skill and inventiveness. We are surprised that we never heard of this production before but New York Village Light Opera presented it a decade ago and it has been performed around the country many times since then.
Judging by the quality of the work, Mr. Hull must have labored long and diligently, adapting Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" for the stage and curating over 20 songs from 11 operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan. The greatest part of the task would seem to have been writing the lyrics for Sullivan's music, retaining the wittiness, the meter, and the rhyme scheme established by Gilbert. Clearly the selections had to be chosen to fit the characters singing them and to advance the drama of the scene. We consider the work a complete success.
The work opened with the fine chorus singing "Christmas Season", an adaptation of "Welcome, Gentry" from Ruddigore. This bustling joyful scene set the stage for Scrooge's negativity. The closing number was borrowed from The Gondoliers-- "Now Let the Loyal Lieges" and utilized Gilbert's own lyrics.
In between we enjoyed some excellent voices illuminating the dramatic arc of the enlightenment of a very unpleasant man, the selfish and miserly Scrooge, effectively enacted by Ray Calderon. Who doesn't enjoy seeing the transformation of the wicked into the lovable!
The transformation is effected by the ghost of Scrooge's deceased partner Jacob Morley (scarily portrayed by Stuart Whalen). He introduces Scrooge to three spirits who guide him through this transformation.
The Ghost of Christmas Past was portrayed by Alexa Rosenberg, a wraith in a white gown who danced through her role. The Ghost of Christmas Present was superbly sung by Alexis Cregger whose "Come in and Know Me Better" was a fine iteration of "Pirate King" from The Pirates of Penzance. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was performed by Michelle Thompson in scary long black gown.
There was so much delight in the evening that it is difficult to pick out special moments but we will make an effort. There was a lovely duet between the young Ebenezer (tenor Charles Calotta) and Belle (soprano Elise Mark), the woman he lost because of his materialism. There was a sprightly dance by Fezziwig, Tom, Dick, and Harry (Benjamin Spierman, Thomas Geib, James Stephen Longo, and Jaden Lux) trying to loosen up young Ebenezer--"Soon as We May" adapted from Iolanthe's "If You Go In".
The Cratchit children sang "We Won't Eat Just Any Old Thing" adapted from "The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring" from The Mikado; note the scanning similarities! The young Max Leventon made a fine Tiny Tim and sang "Were I to Walk" adapted from "Were I Thy Bride" from The Yeomen of the Guard.
Do you remember the very funny "A Paradox" from The Pirates of Penzance? Here it was sung by Scrooge's nephew Fred (Daniel Kerr), his wife Celeste (Rachel Hippert) and their dinner guests Julia (Elizabeth Mirandi) and Topper (Mr. Longo). The four had terrific chemistry together.
Do you remember "Things are Seldom What They Seem" from H.M.S. Pinafore? Here it was sung by a cockney-accented pair (Maria Marbet and Richard Agster) trading old Scrooge's belongings after his (future) death.
Colm Fitzmaurice made a sympathetic Bob Cratchit with Perri Sussman doing her usual fine work as his wife and mother of their six children.
This might be a good time to mention how successful Mr. Hull is at getting children onstage in every production and to also mention that he is auditioning children for an all-children production of The Pirates of Penzance.
Aside from the fine direction, we enjoyed the effective sets which were provided by The Village Light Opera, and based upon David Jones' original design. Cynthia Psoras designed the excellent costumes and also sang as a woman begging Scrooge for charity, along with Arina Ayzen. Hannah Spierman appeared as Mrs. Fezziwig.
James Stenborg was credited for the orchestral arrangement which comprised a solitary violin and eight winds, plus piano and percussion, an unusual grouping which worked well.
There was only one flaw in the production and that was the English diction. The lyrics (when we could understand them) were extraordinarily clever and missing so much was disappointing to say the least. Some of the performers were consistently comprehensible, among them Mr. Spierman, Mr. Whalen, Mr. Kerr, and the young Mr. Leventon. Also, the men's group who sang "Soon as We May" were perfectly understandable.
So, English can be well sung but perhaps we need coaches to ensure that it is! Or titles.
(c) meche kroop