by Don Church & Tony Schillaci – Critics On The Aisle™
One must-see musical theater event in Connecticut is the annual Connecticut Gilbert & Sullivan Society (CGSS) production that keeps alive the enjoyment of the comic operettas of this witty and satirical British musical theater duo of the late 19th Century. The timeless themes and points of view are still relevant for today’s audiences – it’s the very model of a modern major musical.
This year the CGSS’s rousing “Pirates of Penzance” was performed in Middletown High School’s magnificent new Center for the Performing Arts.
This fully mounted production was produced, directed and choreographed by CGSS Founder and Artistic Director Bob Cumming of Moodus. Among his many theatrical achievements, he directed the New York premiere of Strauss’ “Intermezzo,” G&S’s “Pinafore,” “The Pirates of Penzance,” and Victor Herbert’s “Naughty Marietta” for The Little Orchestra Society at Lincoln Center and on tour.
In this year’s CGSS show, Bob achieved another high standard of artistic and technical excellence with the show’s fine casting from leads to chorus members, and the superb production values. His expertise with Gilbert & Sullivan showed in the blocking and pacing of the performers of this tuneful action-packed production -and the successful coordination with the brilliant musical conductor, John Dreslin of Stonington, his twenty-second appearance with the company.
John always manages to take the show’s ‘pick-up’ musicians and, with a minimum of rehearsal time, within a minute into the overture they’re as good as a well-established symphony orchestra.
The ten principle players and the forty or so ladies, pirates, and police were all fully into every moment of the play whether they had a line, a song, or were there as onlookers. This brings
the whole show to life and fully engages the audience. We’ve seen Equity shows that didn’t reach this depth of characterization, control and concentration in performance. Again, it’s Bob’s strong and capable directing, with contributions from his co-producers Annlee Sortland and Leighton Phraner.
Heading the Connecticut cast of principals is Don Shirer (Westbrook) as the Major General, Hal Chernoff (Simsbury) as The Pirate King, Kathleen Thompson (Hebron) as Mabel, David Henderson (Middletown) and Cameron Phillips (Fairfield) as Samuel, Bill Sorensen (Guilford) and Jeff Soun Long (Middletown) as Frederic, Mike Reynolds (Meriden) as Sgt. of Police, Carol Connolly (New Haven) and Betty Olson (Glastonbury) as Ruth. Supporting roles were well played by Renée Haines (Southington), Katherine Yeager (Middletown), Marissa Lovely (East Hampton), Amanda Ziegler (Chester), and Katie Corbett (Plainville).
The stand-out performance of the evening was leading lady Kathleen Thompson as Mabel. As always she lights up the stage and fills it with her presence from her first entrance to her final scene. Kathleen is a superb actress, glorious singer, and a lovely dancer.
Don Shirer (The “very model of a modern major general”) was delightful. Hal Chernoff became a believable and delightfully roguish Pirate King. Bill Sorensen (Frederic) can always be counted on to give his all in the many different parts we’ve seen him play. His understudy, Jeff Soun Long, played a minor part the night we saw the show, and once again showed great potential for a long and successful stage career, as he did in his debut in last year’s G&S production of Patience. He’s a senior at Middletown High School while continuing to hone his theater skills and get the essential experience of performing in front of a live audience.
Founded in 1980, the CG&SS has made its home in Middletown since 1990, adding immeasurably to the city’s and the state’s cultural life. The annual performances are in the fall, and done with Broadway-quality orchestra, singers, costumes, sets and now with state-of –art sound and lighting equipment in the new and well-designed theater.
We are lucky to have so many professional Equity theaters in the state, but the CG&SS is a much-needed showcase for Connecticut’s talented non-equity singers, directors, designers, instrumentalists and stage technicians who make a living at other professions and others who are in school.
Don’t miss next year’s production – whatever it is. To get on the mailing list, contribute, or join in any capacity, contact the Connecticut Gilbert & Sullivan Society at www.ctgilbertandsullivan.org.
© Copyright 2009. Critics On The Aisle. All rights reserved.
This review was published November 25 by The Resident, covering southeastern CT and southern RI. The writers, Critics On The Aisle ™, are members of the Connecticut Critics Circle, www.ctcritics.org.