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September 30, 2009 > Theatre: Sullivan & Gilbert a perfect pleasure

Theatre: Sullivan & Gilbert a perfect pleasure

By Julie Grabowski

Pairing Gilbert and Sullivan is sure to strike a bell in most minds, whether by name recognition alone or from the tongue twisting "Major-General's Song," lilting "Three Little Maids From School," or the sorrowful strains of "Poor Wand'ring One." Kenneth Ludwig's musical play gives a spirited look into the partnership and friendship between two talented men who created humor, absurdity and memorable worlds in 14 enduring operas.

The year is 1890, and behind the scenes at London's Savoy Theatre famous librettist William S. Gilbert and composer Sir Arthur Sullivan have moved past their latest feud to prepare a command performance for Queen Victoria. With only eight hours before the curtain rises, the two must pull together amid illness, secret love, a new singer, a miscast duke, and their own inevitable clashes.

Director Sue Ellen Nelsen has assembled a vibrant cast who deliver solid and enjoyable performances throughout the evening. Jonathan Ferro is outstanding as William S. Gilbert, and in perfect tandem with Louis Schilling as Sir Arthur Sullivan. Whether Gilbert is grilling Sullivan over his mysterious new love or the two are arguing about the relaxing properties of foot holding, every exchange is a sheer delight. Kira Sullivan displays an impressive vocal range as sweet new soprano Violet, and Ron Tanon as George could surely sing his way into any heart. Doubling as the show's costume designer, Thomas Ignatius is joyous as the enthusiastically incompetent but charming duke of Edinburgh.

Enriched by the wonderful orchestra under the direction of Marianna Wolff, memorable numbers include Barry Bailey, Paul Sinasohn and Ron Tanon prancing in curls and gold spangled dresses to "I Am a Maiden Cold and Stately," Tanon's solo "When You're Lying Awake," and Ferro and Schilling turning Gilbert and Sullivan into performers of their own work with "When I Go Out of Door."

"Sullivan &Gilbert" premiered at the National Arts Center of Canada in 1983, winning the Ottawa Critics' Circle Award for Best Play of the Year. It went on to enjoy a successful run at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center, and has since wound its way into theatres around the world. With over 15 songs from 9 operas including the best known "H.M.S. Pinafore," "The Pirates of Penzance," and "The Mikado," "Sullivan & Gilbert" provides a wonderful overview of the pair's collaborations for longtime fans and newcomers alike.

Douglas Morrisson's production is perfectly pleasing in every way, sure to put a smile on your face and stick "Three Little Maids From School" in your head for days to come.

Tickets are $25 for adults, $22 for seniors 60 and above, $15 for students with ID and juniors under 18, and TBA members pay $10. For more information or to purchase tickets call (510) 881-6777 or visit

Sullivan & Gilbert
September 25 - October 11
Thursday - Saturday: 8 p.m., Sundays: 2 p.m.
Douglas Morrisson Theatre
22311 N. Third Street, Hayward
(510) 881-6777

Tickets: $15-$25

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