Books Read in 2007
WE SAIL THE OCEAN BLUE...AGAIN
13 August 2007
A few years ago, I made the statement that I never wanted to see HMS Pinafore again. It's not that I don't like Pinafore. It's just that I had seen it soooo many times, and it is my least favorite of the 10 commonly produced operettas. It's like seeing Annie again or going to the gym. It's hard to work up any enthusiasm to go, but once you get there you usually enjoy yourself.
Gilbert & Sullivan wrote only 13 comic operas, two of which (Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke) aren't performed very often, and one of which (Trial by Jury) is only a one-act. So really, there are only 10 operettas that are performed regularly. A company which is known primarily as a Gilbert & Sullivan company, which is over 50 years old, repeats a lot.
The Lamplighters has other "period operettas" in its repertoire. Things like Die Fledermaus, The Merry Widow, Ernest in Love and a host of others. But the meat and potatoes has always been Gilbert & Sullivan, and Pinafore has always been one of the "big three" (Pinafore, Pirates of Penzance and Mikado) which are guaranteed to bring in audiences.
Pinafore was actually the very first G&S that I saw, at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, back in the 1960s. Walt took me because he loved G&S and assured me I would like it. My father had raised me to believe that Gilbert & Sullivan was the worst music in the world and I remember being surprised that it wasn't nearly as horrible as he painted it to be.
Over the years, I have lost track of the number of times I have seen Pinafore. I saw D'Oyly Carte (the company founded by Gilbert & Sullivan and Carte) perform it on a tour through San Francisco. I saw it at a G&S festival in England. I've seen very good productions and very bad productions. It was the show which opened the fancy-schmancy new Mondavi Center here in Davis. I've seen it on television and in the movies (excerpts done by an all-boys boarding school are included in Judy Garland's last movie, I Could Go On Singing). I've seen parodies and I've helped to write parodies of the show. The only thing I haven't done is to review it.
And in the years when I was working with The Lamplighters, I attended many performances of each production, so I saw it many, many, many times.
It's funny how you view shows. When they are new to you, you watch them as a voyage of discovery. Then you go back to see the performers you like doing the roles you enjoyed them in again. As a show becomes old hat, you watch to see if you can be surprised or blown away by a new production. How will this director stage the show that is different from the way other directors do it? When you're involved with the company which is presenting it, you watch to see how your friends on stage are going to handle a role--and what they are going to do different tonight that they didn't do last night.
I've run the gamut with The Lamplighters, from voyage of discovery through watching favorite performers, through watching friends perform and now back to watching people I don't know. I'm now less interested in what the performers are doing than what my director friends are doing.
I groaned when I found out that Pinafore was on the season for The Lamplighters this year. Walt gave me the option of skipping it, and I was sorely tempted to let him go alone, but ultimately decided to go to see yet another production of HMS Pinafore. My friend Barbara Heroux was directing and her productions are always fun. Even Pinafore.
I remember Barbara when she was just a young kid in the chorus and it has been wonderful watching her come into her own. She has been the glue that has held the company together through some very rough times. She moved into first comprimario roles, then principal roles, and has served as Artistic Director and Company Manager, as director, and as principal writer for the company's yearly Champagne Gala.
The show was in the opera house (nicely decorated with a Union Jack) in the historic area of Napa. The building opened in 1879 and its very first production was .... HMS Pinafore, which had just premiered in London the year before.
I managed to distinguish myself right off the bat by sitting on a window ledge, which caused a v-e-r-y long window shade (see the length of those upper floor windows?) to roll up, leaving light streaming into the theatre. Fortunately this was before the show started! Someone had to come and climb on a precarious looking stool to lower the shade again.
As for the show...I give it a mixed review. It looked great. The set is not new, and some of the women wearing the costumes were not born when the costumes were created, but you sure couldn't tell that from the house. Absolutely first rate. I told Barbara that I gave it an A+ for direction. Her usual unique touches were in evidence throughout.
The actors were all very good, though I admit to getting a bit weepy when Little Buttercup came in. I identify that role so strongly with Jean Ziaja, who died earlier this year. I was actually surprised at how emotional I got for a few minutes there.
There is a new musical director for this show and while he showed that he is capable of sprightly tempos, so many of the numbers, particularly the solos, seemed to drag and drag and drag. This is highly unusual for a Lamplighters production. Lamplighters have long been known for sprightly -- sometimes breakneck -- tempos. I do, however, remember interviewing Mike Leigh, the director of Topsy Turvy, the movie about the writing of The Mikado. I mentioned to him that we had noticed that the tempos of the music in the movie seemed to drag.
Leigh got very huffy and said "Absolutely 100% accurate." So who knows? Maybe this new musical director is directing at Arthur Sullivan pace. But it sure did slow things down.
All in all, though, it really was like going to the gym. I dragged my feet and didn't think I wanted to go, but in the end, I was glad I had gone -- and it was particularly nice to see a familiar face, long missing from Lamplighters stages, Sally, who reads this journal (hi, Sally!), along with a few other old timers who had returned for this production.
When it was over, we went to a nearby brewpub for dinner. There were three tables occupied and it took forever to get our food. My problem was trying not to stare at the guy at the next table who had a tuft of black hair growing out of his ear.
Ewww. So instead of staring at him, I just took out my camera, zoomed in and took a photo.
I am very bad.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
F. Lawrence Ewing
This is entry #2694