NEW YORK—“The Sorcerer” is not as popular as “H.M.S. Pinafore,” “The Pirates of Penzance,” and “The Mikado,” but, as the recent production by the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players confirms, the work has its pleasures.
Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Sorcerer” (1877) is a takeoff on Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” (1832). In the Italian opera, a gullible young man drinks a fake potion to make a local beauty fall in love with him. It turns out that they were both in love all along but were unable to express their feelings.
By contrast, in the G&S operetta, a potion that really works makes a whole town fall in love. (Gilbert had apparently been quite taken with the Donizetti work, since he also authored a magazine piece on the same subject.)
At the start of “The Sorcerer,” set in the village of Ploverleigh, the main characters, Alexis Pointdextre and Aline Sangazure, are in love and engaged to be married.
Alexis wants to spread similar happiness through the area. So, he hires a sorcerer named John Wellington Wells to secretly disseminate a love potion. Once the villagers drink it (unless they are already married), they will fall in love with the first person of the opposite gender they see, despite differences of class. Actually, class had figured in “L’Elisir d’Amore” but not to the extent of the G&S work.
Before the sorcerer’s arrival, the audience learns of the frustrated feelings of some of the characters. Alexis’s father, Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre and Aline’s mother, Lady Sangazure, both of whom are widowed, were once in love with each other and their children hope to resurrect those feelings. Also, a young villager, Constance Partlet, carries a torch for the vicar, Mr. Daly, who considers himself too old to marry.
After the villagers drink the potion, things go awry. Constance winds up with the Notary who came to certify the marriage contract of Alexis and Aline, rather than the vicar. Sir Marmaduke falls for Constance Partlet’s mother, who is of lower rank, and Lady Sangazure sets her sights on the Sorcerer, much to his dismay.
Further complicating matters, Alexis talks Aline into imbibing the potion to cement their marriage. Instead, the first person she sees upon waking is the vicar. The sorcerer, trying to avoid the advances of Lady Sangazure, announces that to reverse the spell either he or Alexis must disappear. The villagers vote to do away with Wells and he magically disappears, undoing the confusion his potion has wrought and guaranteeing a happy ending for all.
The production had a few updates, such as references to i-Phones, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and Costco. The best known piece in “The Sorcerer” is the patter song “My name is John Wellington Wells,” flawlessly rendered in its tongue-twisting splendor by Stephen O’Brien.
The rest of the cast and the orchestra, under the founder, artistic director and conductor Albert Bergeret with David Auxier as choreographer and co-director, were equally amusing. Tenor Daniel Greenwood played Alexis, Kimilee Bryant was Aline, Keith Jurosko was Sir Marmaduke Poindextre, and Richard Alan Holmes acted as the vicar. All were as adept at comic acting as they were with singing the melodic score.
“The Sorcerer” played for only two performances. However, the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players will return for their annual New Year’s Eve gala at Symphony Space (2537 Broadway, at 95th Street; 212-864-5400, nygasp.org).
They will subsequently perform three operettas at City Center (West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues): “The Mikado” (January 4–6), “H.M.S. Pinafore” (January 11–13) and “The Yeomen of the Guard” (January 18–20). All are performed with fully staged productions with a 25-piece orchestra and are highly recommended as family entertainment.
Barry Bassis is a New York based writer who covers music, theater, dining, and travel for various publications. He is a member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle.
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