New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players
nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
January 4, 2008
If you approach the New York City Gilbert and Sullivan Player's (NYGASP) Princess Ida in the right way, you'll most definitely come out of it with a smile on your face. However, this is what you need to know: despite its proximity to Broadway at City Center, NYGASP's production of Princess Ida is not a Broadway show. Parts of it are professional and polished, and parts of it are not, but all of it is done with heart, and a sincere love of Gilbert and Sullivan.
For the record, this is definitely your grandmother's theatre. You may very well like it: it's delightful and comforting and not all edgy. This is no drastic re-imagining of Gilbert and Sullivan—this is painted backdrops, silly hats and hokey choreography, as though time has stood still. While they'll throw in an "updated" reference or two here or there, this is without a doubt "museum-piece theatre," which you either like or you don't.
However whether you like it or not, it can't be doubted that the love of Gilbert and Sullivan at City Center is palpable, from the last row in the balcony to the back row of the chorus. The performers, even those who can't keep up with the elaborate choreography and whose voices seem throaty and shot, all seem to be having a wonderful time. Many in the audience have seen these same performers on stage for years, and some, like myself, from the very first moment they were introduced to Gilbert and Sullivan. If the 20-year G&S veterans sometimes miss a step or hit a wrong note, you forgive them, because it's all part of the fun.
Then there's the show itself. Princess Ida, though not one of Gilbert and Sullivan's better-known works, has plenty to recommend. For a detailed summary of the fantastical plot of Princess Ida, click here. There are many charming numbers in the show, (not the least of which is the two-tenor-and-a-baritone trio in drag in the second act) and some genuinely witty, hilarious lines, expertly handled by the company.
Artistic director Albert Bergeret expertly conducts Sullivan's score. He provides that extra bit of sparkle that makes the music exciting and fun to hear. David Wannen, as Arac, has a powerful bass-baritone voice and an engaging stage presence. Colm Fitzmaurice, Patrick Hogan, and William Whitefield attack their characters with a delightful enthusiasm, selling the style of the show with flair. Hogan, as Cyril, is a clear toned and expressive tenor, and his drinking song is one of the highlights of the evening.
There's a moment in the third act that sums up what the experience of the evening is like. The chorus, 12 strong, line up in two rows, and starts to sing and dance a tap number. Some of them are quite accomplished tap dancers—and some are not. By professional standards, the dancing is sloppy: they are out of sync, some by a little, some by a lot. However, there's a sense of companionship among the performers—they're all getting through this together—that is endearing. As the tap number picks up speed, with repeated choruses, more and more of the chorus fall behind, until, in the end, they all fall on the ground in a heap. The falling down is obviously deliberate—the falling behind that precedes it is not. However, the result is laughter. Whether you'd laugh at or laugh with something like that on stage is a good indicator of whether you'd enjoy seeing Princess Ida.