Monday , July 22 2024
James Mills in NYGASP production of Patience, 2023
James Mills and Company in 'Patience' (photo credit: Danny Bristoll)

Operetta Review: A Hilarious ‘Patience’ from the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players

Patience, or Bunthorne’s Bride may not be the best known of the many comic operas in the Gilbert and Sullivan catalog, but in the current New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP) production it resounds as among the funniest. (It’s also critically highly regarded.) The hilarity, colorful staging and high-vaudevillean choreography make the production a beacon of much-needed jollity and frivolity, while excellent singing and acting make it an artistic success.

Skewering Aestheticism and 19th-century Celebrity Culture

It isn’t that W.S. Gilbert had nothing of substance to say here. It’s just that the phenomenon upon which he had trained his satirical eye begged to be made fun of. Patience is a glorious mockery of late-19th-century Aestheticism, a movement that elevated surface beauty over intrinsic value in the arts. When you look at the excesses of the movement – in this case, extremes of poetical foppery – you can see how the funny is built right in.

Faddishness and celebrity worship are the more general subjects of Patience, with obvious resonance in our own time. The eligible single ladies (“Twenty love-sick maidens we”) have deserted their traditionally “masculine” paramours and fiancés to moon collectively over preening poet Reginald Bunthorne (James Mills, who strikes just the right balance between the comically histrionic and the pitifully human). But Reginald professes no interest in earthly matters, caring only for his overblown poeticism.

Sarah Caldwell Smith in NYGASP 'Patience' 2023
Sarah Caldwell Smith (photo credit: Danny Bristoll)

In fact, he’s fixated on the innocent and naïve dairy maid Patience, who has never experienced love and can’t see what all the fuss is about: “Firstly, what on earth is this love that upsets everybody; and, secondly, how is it to be distinguished from insanity?”

How Indeed? Gilbert & Sullivan Provide No Answer

The arrival of a rival poet, the narcissistic Archibald Grosvenor, upends this already-fraught situation in a variety of ridiculous ways. The story plays out in brilliant comic numbers, with some touching moments, plenty of Gilbert’s brilliantly whimsical wordplay, and a raft of Arthur Sullivan’s delightful music, played by an enthusiastic live orchestra under the direction of conductor and artistic director Albert Bergeret. To counterbalance a profusion of outdated and unfamiliar topical references, the NYGASP creative team inserts some contemporary American ones for improved intelligibility and extra laughs.

NYGASP 'Patience' 2023
Photo credit: Danny Bristoll

The maidens’ tableau in the opening number establishes the production’s creative visual vocabulary. A wonderful performance of the duet “Prithee, pretty maiden” by golden-voiced baritone David Macaluso as Archibald and silver-sweet soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith as Patience is a highlight of the first act.

Smith also does a beautiful job with Patience’s solo “Love is a plaintive song” in the second act. Hannah Holmes as Jane, the one (rapidly ripening) maiden who stays true to the dismissive Bunthorne, nearly steals the act by singing, mugging, and accompanying herself on the cello for “Sad is that woman’s lot.”

The comic climax comes with “So go to him, and say to him,” a brilliantly choreographed paean to vaudeville/music-hall that Holmes and Mills chew the heck out of. The endeavor by the three lead dragoons to master the aesthetes’ overdramatic poses draws plenty of laughs too, and there’s so much sparkling business going on during the company numbers that it can be hard to know where to look.

Hannah Holmes and James Mills in NYGASP  'Patience'
Hannah Holmes and James Mills (photo credit: Danny Bristoll)

Patience opened the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ 49th season, which continues with The Mikado and a double feature of The Sorcerer and Trial by Jury. Schedule and tickets are available online or by calling 212-772-4448.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to our Music section, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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