The Pittsburgh Savoyards open their 79th season with a rousing production of Patience by Gilbert and Sullivan.
Patience is a virtue, but in this case she is a milkmaid and satire on the aesthetic movement of the 1870s and ’80s in England and, more broadly, on fads and crowd mentality.
Imagine if the TV series The Bachelor took place about a hundred fifty years ago. The bachelor in Patience is the self-styled aesthetic poet Reginald Bunthorne. All the rapturous maidens have all become his groupies much to the dismay of the Dragoons, the girls’ macho military boyfriends.
This brings us to Patience, the virtuous village milkmaid who claims to have never loved anyone. But while Bunthorne is infatuated with Patience, she falls for her childhood crush Archibald Grosvenor, another “famous” aesthete who attracts women even faster than Bunthorne. By means of whimsical song, dance and typical Gilbert and Sullivan nonsensical logic, a happy ending is achieved while reminding us that every generation has its own temporary insanity!
Gilbert and Sullivan’s operatic works are clearly not fads. After all, how do you explain the Pittsburgh’s Savoyards mission and a nearly singular passionate focus on Gilbert & Sullivan’s work over the past 79 years?
Patience was the sixth operatic collaboration of fourteen between Gilbert and Sullivan including H.M.S. Pinafore, Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, all of which retain a nice degree of contemporary relevance by addressing superficiality, vanity, hypocrisy, and pretentiousness while satirizing romantic love and military bluster.
Director Rob Hockenberry has a full stage with a large cast of characters to fill along with the challenge of double casting the leads. There are many well-staged bits and some really nice physical comedy particular in scenes with Bunthorne and Grosvenor. A full orchestra of volunteers under the direction of Guy Russo accompanies this production. Keeping with the period, the show uses no microphones. Supertitles are used above the stage for the songs, which helps when vocals don’t quite cut through as well as revealing the multi-part complexity of the lyrics.
The Savoyards show off some excellent Pittsburgh area talent. Some standouts from Saturday night’s performance were Sarah McCullough as Patience with a nice balance of naivety and wisdom along with a nice voice. Michael Greenstein was perfect as the fleshy and pretentious Reginald Bunthorne with a great sense of physical comedy and timing. Deborah Greenstein as Lady Jane singing Sad is a Woman’s Lot drew lots of sympathy and laughs from the women in the audience. Zachary Wood shows off his performance experience and vocal training as Archibald Grosvenor.
The scenic elements are nicely painted with the decorations capturing the era’s fascination with all things Egyptian. The large cast requires a lot of period costumes. I particularly liked Designer Ellen Rosen’s costumes for the four leads.
Patience originally premiered in London in 1881, and later that year moving to the larger Savoy Theatre. Henceforth, the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas would be known as the Savoy Operas, and both fans and performers of Gilbert and Sullivan would come to be known as “Savoyards.” Another bit of interesting theatre trivia; Patience was the first theatrical production in the world to be lit entirely by electric light.
A good measure of any company’s production is noticing the pleasure the actors have in their performance, in other words, are they having fun and enjoying their craft. By that measure and the mission to expose the operas of Gilbert & Sullivan to contemporary audiences, this show is a success and worth of the opportunity to see one of their lesser-known works.
The Pittsburgh Savoyards continue their 79th season in spring with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience. Performances continue March 9-12, 2017 at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie. All performances except for the 2:30pm Sunday matinees are at 8pm. Click here for more information.
Thanks to the Pittsburgh Savoyards for the complimentary tickets.
Photos by Lauren Stanley.