For one dazzling weekend, now passed into history, Washington was the scene of no fewer than three Gilbert and Sullivan productions.
The Washington Savoyards' production of "The Gondoliers" hardly aspired to compete with the Washington Opera's hilarious, macabre "Ruddigore" or Brian Macdonald's colorful "HMS Pinafore," both of which have been enjoying long runs at the Kennedy Center. But this "Gondoliers" fills capably an essential niche in the ecology of Gilbert and Sullivan interpretation.
It is part of the honorable tradition of semiprofessional ("provincial," if you like) productions that is almost as old as the Gilbert and Sullivan canon itself. The brilliance and dazzling professionalism in the Kennedy Center productions are most welcome qualities, but organizations like the Washington Savoyards represent another set of values well worth cultivating and preserving.
Besides providing healthy, absorbing leisure activities for teachers, lobbyists, writers and bureaucrats who have good voices and rising talents, these productions offer valuable experience to promising young singers who may later price themselves out of the company's reach. But above all, they keep the full Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire alive and healthy for Washington audiences, who would seldom or never get to see "Patience," "Princess Ida," "The Sorcerer" or "Iolanthe" if they waited for these works to reach the Kennedy Center. Since its founding here in 1972, the Savoyards have presented all the standard works in the G&S canon, many of them in more than one season.
The Savoyards, and organizations like them, also have a role that is more essential than ever, now that the D'Oyly Carte Company, keeper of the sacred flame, has passed from the scene: to preserve the original Savoy tradition as it was created by Gilbert and Sullivan. It is wonderful to have such innovations as in "Pinafore," in which jokes about Gary Hart find their way into the dialogue, or a picture gallery mysteriously modulating into a graveyard in Act 2 of "Ruddigore." But it is also important to keep alive, on stage, the way the creators originally imagined these works, and the Savoyards do that effectively.
The organization has now moved its productions into the Duke Ellington Theatre in Georgetown, a high school auditorium that is technically and acoustically a significant improvement over the company's former quarters.
The production Saturday was excellent by the appropriate standards, with a particularly notable performance by Pat Anthony Ale'man as Don Alhambra the Grand Inquisitor. Brian West, as the Duke of Plaza-Toro, sang and acted capably, but his talent obviously is capable of further development. Hugh Harvey III as Marco and Michael E. Loomis as Giuseppe both performed well. Nancy Peery Marriott and Lynn Sharp Spears as their fiance'es both sounded as though they needed more warming up at the beginning of Saturday night's performance, but this problem soon took care of itself. Mary Gresock was theatrically and vocally vivid in the role of Casilda, and Paul Newport handled the part of Luiz with no perceptible problems.
As always, the stage direction of Audrey M. Shipp was lucid and effective, and conductor Richard A. Fazio brought out the music's sparkle. This production was considerably brightened by the choreography of Marge Perine.