The Washington Savoyards reached back into history for the model of their current production in the Duke Ellington Theatre.
Gilbert & Sullivan's "Trial by Jury" first saw the light of day as a program-filler to run with Jacques Offenbach's "La Perichole" in 1875. Now, 129 years later, the two works have been staged together again, the Savoyards' first venture outside the G&S repertoire, and they prove highly compatible in this bright, energetic production.
Except for the two works' historic resonance, few people would have thought to reunite them. "La Perichole" alone runs more than two hours, a full evening's entertainment by contemporary standards; evidently, our appetites are not as huge as those of our Victorian ancestors. At any rate, this double feature gives as many catchy tunes, human absurdities and sardonic observations on the war between the sexes as most of us could absorb in a single evening.
"Trial by Jury" could be considered a Kafkaesque horror story if it was not so melodious and funny. Edwin is being sued by Angelina for breach of promise after the breakup of their engagement, and the curtain is barely up before it becomes obvious that the judge and the all-male jury are hopelessly smitten with the lovely plaintiff. Edwin is doomed and offers to marry both Angelina and her successor for his affections, but a check of the lawbooks shows that it is a crime ("Burglaree") to have two wives at once. The dilemma is solved when the judge decides to marry the plaintiff.
"La Perichole" is set in Peru, justifying some very colorful costumes and Latin-flavored music and dancing. There is also a spectacular drunk scene, as well as some satire, Offenbach transplanting to Peru caricatures of what he had observed in France.
Catherine Huntress-Reeve's direction brings out the wit in both shows, but the music is what counts most, and the Savoyards have put it in good hands under the baton of Richard Fazio. Among the many excellent voices in "Trial by Jury" are Mary Gresock (Angelina), Ray Cullom (Edwin), Scott Kenison (the Judge) and Blair Eig (the Usher). Ingrid Cowan is impressive in the title role of "La Perichole," and is well supported by Ole Hass, Lew Freeman, Jason Rylander and Joe Price in a large and well-chosen cast.
There will be repeat performances tonight and Sunday afternoon.