Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., June 15, 2001
The Sorcerer: Charmed, I'm Sure
Helm Fine Arts Center,
through June 17
Running Time: 2 hrs
And you thought Love Potion No. 9 was trouble. All that led to was one poor sap kissing a cop. The numberless love potion in the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta The Sorcerer gets an entire town -- the ordinarily sedate Dorsetshire village of Ploverleigh -- swapping sweethearts willy-nilly. Men and women break away from inamorata of long-standing and start pairing off in new couples, but without regard to age, appearance, or -- gasp! -- class: Fair maidens swoon for wizened ancients, robust gentlemen spoon with dainty ladies, erudite aristocrats court coarse commoners. It wreaks havoc with the social order.
Well, "wreaks havoc" may be a trifle strong. This is, after all, Gilbert & Sullivan we're talking about, and their presentation of comical chaos is ever inclined to the Genteel & Sly. So it is with this, the team's third collaboration and first full-length opera. Once the titular wizard has spiked the town teapot with his elixir d'amour (at the behest of a romantic young swain trying to strike a blow for social equality) and the enchantment has worked its way upon the citizenry, their new passions express themselves in nothing more carnal than rampant hand-holding and discreet googly-eyes. No sex, please, we're British.
Still, despite the lack of orgiastic displays of affection, The Sorcerer proves a genial spoof of class prejudice, at least as staged by G'Ann Boyd for this year's annual offering from the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin. Boyd's uncluttered approach -- limited movement, carefully arranged stage tableaux -- allows the work's understated satire to shine through the performers' presence and delivery of the songs. Thus, when we meet Alexis Pointdextre, the young noble who seeks to free love from its class constraints, we're able to savor all the patrician earnestness in Holton Johnson's performance (an endearing hoity-toityness somewhat in the manner of David Hyde Pierce's Niles Crane). And when his beloved Aline -- a modest, sweet-voiced Janet Coker -- finally expresses disapproval to him with a petulant stamp-stamp-stamp of her foot, the act registers like a baby thunderclap. And when the colorless vicar -- gray vest, gray jacket, gray temples -- bemoans his lovelorn state, every bewildered blink of Arthur DiBianca's eyes and languid flick of his long, lean wrists registers.
On the whole, the cast, which blends experienced and novice performers, moves demurely through this romantic folly, the brightest things about them being their clothing (colorful period wear supplied by Star Costume & Clothier) and their voices, which serve up Sir Arthur's music in sprightly harmonies smoothly guided by chorus master Jeffrey Jones-Ragona. The chief exception to this humble crew is the sorcerer himself. G&S Society stalwart Frank Delvy assays J. Wellington Wells with the showmanship one would expect of a veteran dealer in magic and spells, and he provides the flash -- figuratively and literally -- that makes the show work. In the end, The Sorcerer may not boast the magic of David Copperfield, but it's not without its charms.