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MasterVoices Find Pertinence in Gershwin Depression-Era Political Satire “Of Thee I Sing”
by Bruce-Michael Gelbert      |   follow us...

   
photo by Erin Baiano
"Of Thee I Sing" cast
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At the start of the evening, at Carnegie Hall, on November 2, MasterVoices Artistic Director Ted Sperling pointed out, particularly pertinently, that the work he was about to conduct, George and Ira Gershwin, George S. Kaufman, and Morrie Ryskind’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Of Thee I Sing” (1931), daring in its day, “deals with fake news and foreign interference in a Federal election.” Later on, narrator Mo Rocca noted that the show came from “a time when ‘Who Cares?’ was a delightful show tune, not a governing policy.” Presidential impeachment, with sexual scandal plaguing the new regime, and resignation and marriage annulment considered, plays a part here, as do show business tactics vying with true leadership.
That said, the MasterVoices’ “Of Thee I Sing,” in a concert adaptation by Tommy Krasker, was thoroughly delightful. The MasterVoices Orchestra got the evening off to a rousing start with the potpourri overture and the singers of MasterVoices handled the sprightly opening numbers, “Wintergreen for President,” “Who is the Lucky Girl to Be?” and “Because, Because,” with flair, morphing easily into cheerful White House staffers, wishing each other “Good Morning,” and aggressive reporters, whose probing questions the President and First Lady counter with the aforementioned “Who Cares?” The choristers also anchored the major ensembles, the first act finale, full of conflict; the second act production numbers; and the grand finale.
Bryce Pinkham, as John P. Wintergreen, and Denée Benton, as Mary Turner, made a fine First Couple, the latter chosen because of her matchless corn muffins, made without corn, over the whiny winner of a beauty contest, Elizabeth Stanley as Southern belle Diana Devereaux, who is determined to raise a fuss and make it clear in every state that she was callously “jilted.” Pinkham and Benton joined voices in the romantic title song and the ebullient “Love Is Sweeping the Country,” while Stanley’s Diana Devereaux, not averse to elevating the affront to the level of international incident, enlisted the aid of David Pittu, as the imperiously piqued French Ambassador, to plead her qualifications for First Lady-hood as “The Illegitimate Daughter (of an illegitimate son of an illegitimate nephew of Napoleon).” Richard J. Miller, Esq., the distinguished Chief Justice, presided over the combination swearing in and marriage ceremony at the end of Act One, and Kevin Chamberlin, as the jolly and largely clueless Vice-President Alexander Throttlebottom, led the impeachment proceedings in “The Senate,” where he only called the first few Senators by name, because “I simply can’t be bothered if their names don’t rhyme.” Chuck Cooper, Brad Oscar, and Fred Applegate made worthy contributions as President Wintergreen’s Cabinet members and Rhett Guter and Anna Landy, as other staff members, helped guide their ensembles.
MasterVoices will participate in the Israel Philharmonic’s performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony Number Three, here on November 8, led by Zubin Mehta, and in a double bill of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” and Matthew Aucoin’s “The Orphic Moment,” at Rose Hall on May 6 and 7, 2018. Visit www.mastervoices.org for further details.

 

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