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Friday, September 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 55.0° F  Fog/Mist
Music
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Beginners' luck
Gilbert & Sullivan score with early works
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The underappreciated 'Sorcerer' has real wit <br>
and beauty.
The underappreciated 'Sorcerer' has real wit
and beauty.

For its 45th annual production, Madison Savoyards offer the earliest surviving two-act Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration, "The Sorcerer" of 1877. They join it with Sullivan's first operetta venture, written with F.C. Burnand, the one-act curtain-raiser "Cox and Box," of 1867.

The latter is a farce about two long-lost brothers who are reunited amid the tangles of simultaneously renting the same lodgings from an opportunistic landlord. "The Sorcerer" shows a bridegroom creating mayhem by seeking to spread the joys of love and marriage to all the local villagers, via a love-potion supplied by J. Wellington Wells, Family Sorcerer. Though period pieces, full of spoofs of then-famous operas, both are irresistibly funny.

"Sorcerer" has an underappreciated score of real wit and beauty (including the first great G&S "patter song" and their first ensemble "madrigal"). This year's novelty is a guest singer, the rising young tenor James Schaffner, taking the roles of Box in the opener and the bridegroom Alexis in the main piece. His voice is a bit raw, but his bright timbres, strong projection and theatrical flair mark him as a genuine pro.

Schaffner's clear enunciation points up for the remaining cast the eternal bugaboo of adequate diction. Julie Hutchinson, the bride Aline, sings beautifully, but her spoken lines are often inaudible, while Jessica Warmington, a truly pretty Constance, is weak verbally in solos. As Cox and then a minor character, Justin Wilder can hardly be understood either singing or speaking. Jesse Hoffmeister, charming as the timid vicar, speaks too fast. Generally, the whole cast might recommit to diction.

There certainly are some good character portrayals. Ryan Thorn, a fine singing actor, unconvincingly senior as Sir Marmaduke, is a bumptious ex-soldier and landlord in the opener. James Rowe is effective theatrically and adequate vocally, while Kathleen Buttita and Ilona Pinzke are just right as Lady Sangazure and Mrs. Partlet.

Using Charles Trieloff's apt sets, director William Farlow has staged the work with affectionate stylishness. His blocking of the chorus is rather flat and bland, but his movements and business for the characters are imaginative - though the antics during Mr. Wells' patter-song are needlessly distracting. Gary McKercher conducts briskly.

We can expect rough edges to be smoothed out during the run. As always, a Savoyards production gives great pleasure, and this one shouldn't be missed.

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