Tom Strini

The Skylight’s Evening with a very human Gilbert & Sullivan

By - May 30th, 2010 12:24 pm
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Dale Gutzman’s An Evening with Gilbert & Sullivan in many ways resembles a G&S operetta, particularly as practiced at the Skylight Opera Theatre over the last five decades. The characters are zany, the ending is deus ex machina, jaunty tunes abound, patter songs skewer contemporary topics, and this Skylight production turns a satirical eye on the company itself.

That would have been enough, but Gutzman goes a deeper in this densely plotted revue, which premired Friday (May 28) in the tiny Studio Theatre of the Broadway Theatre Center.

Gary Briggle (foreground), Jeff Schaetzke at the piano, John Muriello with trumpet.

John Muriello, as W.S. Gilbert, and Gary Briggle, as Arthur Sullivan, find themselves ensconced in a comfortable English gentlemen’s club in the afterlife. They feud and clown together, in a reflection of their earthly life, which was as quarrelsome as it was artistically and financially successful. Muriello and Briggle are masters of G&S style, superb singers and comedians. In the musical numbers, they step into dazzling Savoyard mode and remind us of the theatrical brilliance of HMS Pinafore, The Mikado, Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe and the rest. Jeff Schaetzke joins in seamlessly. Schaetzke is the onstage pianist, singer and music director, and an impeccable Meadows, the valet/angel who gently prods the temperamental artists toward a higher consciousness.

Gutzman has placed G&S in an existential afterlife, a Sartrian No Exit. But this is a comedy, so they have escape clause. They can feud forever and make hell of their cushy club, or they can reconcile, come to a realistic assessment of the value of their work and enjoy a heavenly eternity. Within this contrivance, Gutzman, Briggle and Muriello plumb some very real humanity.

Muriello’s Gilbert must cope with his guilt over the dalliances that broke his wife’s heart; only from the perspective of the afterlife does he grasp the impossible situation of Victorian women. Briggle’s Sullivan must come to grips with his deep sense of failure as a composer; his serious works failed while his tossed-off operettas made mountains of money. When these fine actors drop the G&S artifice to discuss these matters with understated passion, they lift this show to a higher plane of discourse.

Gutzman’s An Evening with Gilbert & Sullivan is G&S and is therefore silly fun by definition. But it is also the story of two complicated men finding salvation, told by two actors who at any given moment locate themselves exactly amid the many layers of theatrical reality. Their outstanding craft makes this show as moving as it is amusing.

An Evening with Gilbert and Sullivan runs through June 20 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway. Tickets are $33.50; visit the Skylight website or call the BTC box office, 414-291-7811.

Click here for an interview with Gutzman and Briggle.

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