At last, happily, Troupers Light Opera has found a nearly perfect venue, one that enhances rather than detracts from their efforts. The newly renovated Wall Street Theater at 71 Wall Street in Norwalk, CT, is a real gem! If it’s one of the reasons this season’s show has a particular gleam to it, so be it. Good move.
To be fair, Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore also gleams. It’s a brilliant piece, crafted by the dynamic duo at the beginning of their very best stuff. Gilbert’s characters are well defined types, on the surface serious and straight laced, apparently well grounded in the everyday reality of position, order, and responsibility. But not so far below that surface there flows that silly, satiric, topsy turvy current of contradiction teaming with Gilbert’s peevish pets and other easy targets. His lyrics are endlessly witty and clever; Sullivan’s music is simply first rate! Do it well and you bring in the new fans.
The Troupers do it particularly well this year, top to bottom. The stage action is crisp and efficient under the insightful direction of Emily Trudeau. Some new business, even interesting asides, brought laughs: Sir Joseph never gets the Captain’s name right and Ralph Rackstraw (“the smartest lad in all the fleet”) sits apart from the others and reads. The upper deck (actually spotlighted now and then) brought a special focus to those above-the-action timeless reflections and timely revelations.
Brett Kroeger as Josephine sings beautifully throughout. No surprise here, for she conspicuously enjoys each moment and the role indeed fits her voice like a glove. Equally important is that she creates a portrait of such an one who transitions from the uncertain, emotionally conflicted daughter to the sure and certain young woman in love. Throughout she tastefully channels her inner Carol Burnett to great effect and plays the add-on bits well: Trudeau throws in several small travel trunks, luggage no well-to-do Captain’s daughter should even think of eloping without, perhaps to suggest that even if Josephine is really on board with the idea of marrying Ralph, she hasn’t completely thought through the parameters of the hasty exit and ceremony on the fly. Big smiles, brava!
Tenor Alan Briones, new to Troupers, takes the role of Lohengrin in the curtain raiser, Victor Herbert’s The Magic Knight, and then that of Ralph Rackstraw, the romantic lead in Pinafore. Briones sings with a sweet, clean voice, bringing reason, sincerity, even ardor to a role that sometimes is played as just a good lookin’ but on the whole empty headed fellow, elevated discourse in Gilbert’s dialogue notwithstanding. Briones is a fit and able seaman all around. Welcome!
Veteran Trouper David Schancupp sings Sir Joseph Porter, a role he has sung several times before. He always brings an enjoyable wry wit and a twinkle to his G & S roles. A pleasure, welcome back, David. And Frank Sisson, as Captain Corcoran, is a steady, positive force in the cast. One can’t help smiling when he is on stage. Porter and Corcoran are the clueless persons in power, an oft used character type in the G & S repertory. It’s fun to watch two successful seasoned lawyers transform themselves into such roles.
The rest of the able seamen include the triangular Dick Deadeye, created by Bob Scrofani, and Bill Bobstay, essayed by newcomer Erik Contzius, these two among the major male voices of the performance. Scrofani’s Deadeye teeters on loathsome, well acted by Scrofani actually, knowing his personality in real life. Contzius also was the King in The Magic Knight to great effect; Neil Flores was Bob Becket.
Surrounding the aforementioned clueless persons in power are the practical and well grounded Little Buttercup, a bumboat woman, sung by Wendy Falconer, and the well heeled and equally well grounded Cousin Hebe, main cousin of Sir Joseph, sung by also newcomer Suzanne Rossini. Gilbert enjoyed the “gypsy” character who reads destinies, who knows the twisted back story behind the affairs to that point in the drama, who then at the end reveals all. Falconer’s Buttercup, on team Corcoran, makes the most of her revelation, which, at least on the Pinafore, just in time for the finale, turns the structure of birth and rank on its head; Rossini’s Hebe, on team Porter, serves as the voice of reason and gives closure to Sir Joseph’s status as a single person. Not all of Gilbert’s trains of admiring women are just there for the ride.
The chorus for Pinafore was animated and demonstrative, particularly the Women’s Chorus, but the Men’s Chorus were lively in their own dedicated way.
The novelty of the curtain raiser, Victor Herbert’s The Magic Knight (instead of the usual Trial by Jury) brought broad smiles. It’s a thirty minute spoof of Richard Wagner’s Grand Romantic Opera Lohengrin, complete with medieval costumes, swords and the necessary swan. Miran Robarts’ Elsa von Brabant is the ditzy daughter of the Duke (deceased, therefore not appearing in this production, not even as a ghost). Elsa rather compulsively sings dazzling coloratura cadenzas, at one point alluding directly to Lucia, a similarly compulsed soprano character in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Robarts sparkles entertainingly. Elsa is accused of dispatching her young brother, as in murdering, not as in packing off to prep school. The false charges are brought by Frederick and his consort, the conniving Ortrud, here billed as The comic baritone and The wicked mezzo respectively. Nicole McQuade created a commanding presence, especially as paired with the more diminutive Rob Strom as Frederick. Most of the spoofs on Wagner’s music came with the arrival of Lohengrin (Alan Briones, who sang the line Mein lieber Schwann straight out); other allusions were brief patches of signature themes and dark tones.
Erik Kramer led the Troupers Light Opera Orchestra to great effect overall. The strings, especially, were in synch and animated, and coordination with the stage was consistent. Welcome to Troupers, Erik!
As for the new Wall Street Theater, please note the following: it is beautifully restored and spanking new inside. The Troupers double bill of The Magic Knight/H.M.S. Pinafore fits perfectly on the stage, given the size of the cast, actually the best fit since the bygone days of St. Luke’s. The sets, still not lavish but attractive, are not dwarfed by it; the colors of the costumes and drops are greatly enhanced by the lighting. Seating is comfortable, it’s a small theater, so almost every seat is the best in the house, and the sight lines are most acceptable. The acousitcs are superb; the voices in the performance were unamplified. Summary: The Wall Street Theater is an excellent venue for Troupers. Check it out.
“Such an one” is from Pirates of Penzance, not a typo.
Review performance: April 2, 2017.
Photos: courtesy of Troupers Light Opera
Troupers Light Opera presents The Magic Knight and H.M.S. Pinafore on Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 2:30 on the weekend of April 8 and 9 at the newly renovated Wall Street Theater at 71 Wall Street in Norwalk, CT.
For tickets, please go to their website: www.trouperslightopera.org
Parking, it turns out, is no longer a mystery. Just I never looked on the Troupers' website! Recommended is the Yankee Doodle Garage a block and a half from the Theater. Rates are really reasonable. On Sunday I found a spot on Isaac Street, thought myself lucky…but there were a few spots across Wall Street as well.
Enjoy the show, embrace Gilbert and Sullivan! Support local opera! Likely one of your neighbors is in it!