An evening at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall was spent in merriment, with froth and depth, as the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) held its spring Gala–“Topsy-Turvy: the NYFOS Guide to Gilbert & Sullivan,” on April 5 in one of the most beautifully appointed, intimate spaces for classical performance. Every seat there is great and with a winsome cast that consisted of David Hyde Pierce, Lauren Worsham, Bryce Pinkham, Hal Cazalet, and Abigail Levis, with Steven Blier and Chris Reynolds at the Steinway piano, literally playing the orchestra, four hands, we had an enchanting romp through Blier’s garden of musical delights with this “compendium” of selected works drawn from his Gilbert and Sullivan favorites.
Sir William Schwenck Gilbert was brilliant in mapping the foibles of his English brethren–their obsession with class, title, and more. As Blier noted at the beginning, there is always a set of absurd laws that the characters are committed to circumventing. How they tease out the logical ends is where the humor lies and, with so many Tony and Emmy award-winning and nominated talents on stage, the scenes and music were arch, funny, and ragingly enjoyable.
Starting with Hal Cazalet and Bryce Pinkham as “The Gondoliers,” Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri, they serenaded one another and us with “We’re Called Gondolieri” in spirited style, miming oars, guitars, and more. This set the scene for the merriment to come and treated us to the beauty of the blend of their voices.
Next we had Yum Yum, a very expecting, luminous Lauren Worsham, with Cazalet taking on Nanki Poo in “Were You Not to Ko-Ko Plighted,” from “The Mikado,” with much moue-ing of lips and big eyes. Throughout the evening, Worsham treated us to delightful displays of her rich soprano with her effortless high notes soaring. And throughout the evening, as well, much ‘innocent merriment’ made around the soon-to-be-born, ensued.
Favorite selections from “H.M.S. Pinafore” were David Hyde Pierce, as Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B., offering a louche resume in “When I was a Lad;” “Refrain, Audacious Tar,” with Worsham as Josephine Corcoran and Cazalet as Ralph—pronounced Rafe—Rackstraw, a grand and heated, brain-twisting delight; and with their combined dramatic talent and beautiful voices blending, an exhilarating “Never Mind the Why and Wherefore” with Pinkham, Worsham and Pierce—oh my!—which did not include, sadly, any encores. But then, there’s so much to do and so little time!
“Iolanthe” is Blier’s favorite in the G&S canon, he admits, and we enjoyed “If We’re Weak Enough to Tarry,” when Worsham’s Phyllis and Pinkham’s Strephon healed their rift. The dialogue prior displayed the chemistry, between the two, of long-term friends and their work together had a truly Spring feeling, especially with Worsham pouring out runs that sounded like ice melting to sparkling water on its way to becoming a river. The pairing of the two was pure delight.
A selection from “Princess Ida”, the only three-act work by Gilbert and Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan, well and surely displayed our trio of Hyde Pierce, Cazalet, and Pinkham. Our disguised Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian stormed the Castle Adamant and disguise themselves as supplicants to Worsham’s Princess Ida, who confided to them, in “The World is but a Broken Toy,” how her all-female University came to be. The poses were as brilliant as the music, which bordered at times on pre-Barbershop, close-order harmony, with our soprano’s descant sailing above.
“Ruddigore” was also well represented–how could you not do a bit of wit from the absurd and wonderful Gothic? Rose Maybud, Robin Oakapple, and Richard Dauntless, Worsham, Pinkham, and Cazalet, deftly delighted us with “In Sailing o’er Life’s Ocean Wide,” the classic lover’s triangle trio. Then the big reveal came for Robin, when Richard, Cazalet, spilled the beans, that Robin is really Sir Ruthven Murgatroy, to poor Sir Despard Murgatroyd, Hyde Pierce, who has been serving the sentence of the Ruddigore curse for the past decade, in “You understand? I think I do,” with Hyde Pierce’s delightful “in” reference to giving all the gallery of his demanding ancestors’ paintings “to the Frick,” rather than to the National Gallery of G&S’s time, where “nobody shall ever look upon their faces again!” This elicited barking laughter from select areas of the audience, as did many bon mots during the evening. The final “Ruddigore” selection was “My Eyes Are Fully Open,” the spirited “matter”/patter trio, which proved a terpsichorean tongue twister for Hyde Pierce, Pinkham, and Abigail Levis, who made a dashing Mad Margaret.
The Gala then prepared to move on the “21” Club for a supper–after all, what’s a Gala without a feast! The appropriate music, then, for the company to send the audience along with was “Now to the Banquet We Press,” from the finale to the first act of “The Sorcerer.” Among the first of the G&S early successes, it seemed especially right, considering that NYFOS has sorcerers of her own in Artistic Director Steven Blier and Associate Artistic Director Michael Barrett, and the enticing beauty and joy they continually create for our delight.
So you missed the Gala? No problem! It’s still possible to support the work that NYFOS does. Visit www.NYFOS.org
today for more information and for tickets for its next masterpiece, “Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women,” at Merkin Concert Hall, on April 26 at 8 p.m.!