ELLSWORTH — Two things we can count on each winter are blizzards and gales of laughter when the international award winning Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Maine put on their annual operetta.
So be sure to be plowed out from the former by the weekend of Feb. 6 when four performances are scheduled.
This year, it is one the most critically acclaimed and dramatically ambitious of the duo’s work – “ Yeoman of the Guard” – ambitious in that it really isn’t quite as topsy turvey as most of their works.
There is plenty of humor in this story of a wrongly accused young man, sentenced to die in the tower of London through the nefarious shenanigans of a scheming relative. In the course of the tale, he is, of course, rescued by an improbable and rather silly series of events and romantic entanglements. There is real pathos to the story, some elegant, near-Shakespearean language and some truly gorgeous music. When “The Yeoman of the Guard” was first produced in 1888, it was hailed by many as a legitimate opera.
The cast of this show was in fine form last Sunday afternoon as they ran through the second and most of the first act – trying to get as much done as possible before the aforementioned blizzard hit and cancelled the mid-week rehearsal.
In fact, even in the basement of the United Baptist Church, the singing of various soloists, duets, trios and quartets sounded beautiful, and when the full chorus was in full voice, well it was swell. Imagine how wonderful it will all be in the great acoustics of the Grand.
G&S fans will be pleased to learn that many of the company’s most talented and beloved veterans will be in the spotlight once again. This includes the delightful Roland Dube as the “sour faced” jailor Wilfred Shadbolt; the excellent Leslie Michaud as the love struck Phoebe Merryl; The handsome John Vogt, who may be a bit too old as the romantic lead Colonel Fairfax, but when he unleashes his heart-melting tenor, who cares; and the imposing Margo Lukens who rolls her R’s so prodigiously as she sings, “the scrrew may twist and the rrack may turrn, men may bleed and men may burrn” it is wickedly delicious.
Then there are the those steadfast baritones, Irv Hodgkins, John Cunningham, Ned Smith and Clayton Smith all of whom look as if they have escaped from the label of a gin bottle in their marvelous Beefeater garb. There are also a host of familiar faces in the chorus, each of whom, it seems, have been given a particular character by costumer Jean Porter. The milkmaid, the fortune teller, pub wench, rat catcher, apple seller, etc. create a marvelous tableaux, which in the rich brown, gold, black and creamy white palette she used, might have been painted by Rembrandt.
Perhaps even more thrilling than this harmonic convergence of G&S pros is the arrival of some lovely new voices and young faces who have been recruited to the fold: the adorable Pepin Mittlehauser as the lovelorn fool Jack Point, Theo Dumas as the brave soldier Leonard Merryl, who joins the escape plot, and most notably, as the ingénue Elsie Maynard, Molly Abrams, a vocal performance major at the University of Maine who looks like a very young Julianne Moore and sounds even more beautiful with her surprisingly mature bel canto soprano.
These along with some 30 other cast members are all under the capable direction of Dede Johnson and music director John Haskell.
Put all this together with a full orchestra and one of Peter Miller’s excellent sets, and it’s a pretty sure bet even if you have to dig yourself out with a sandbox shovel, you are going to want to be at the Grand Auditorium Friday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 7, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and/or Sunday, Feb. 8, at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $20, $18 for seniors and students. Call the box office at 667-9500 or visit grandonline.org.