Reviews

The Sorcerer & Trial By Jury ****1/2

By: Paulanne Simmons

April 8, 2024: This season the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players are presenting a double header, The Sorcerer & Trial By Jury. This means twice the enjoyment for their fortunate audiences.

W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan first collaborated on a piece called Thespis, an 1871–72 Christmas season entertainment. Although it was reasonably successful, the two did not work together again until February 1875 when Gilbert read to Sullivan the libretto for Trial By Jury: An Operetta, which had originally appeared as a single-page illustrated comic piece in Fun magazine.

Hannah Holmes & Matthew Wages.

By: Paulanne Simmons

April 8, 2024: This season the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players are presenting a double header, The Sorcerer & Trial By Jury. This means twice the enjoyment for their fortunate audiences.

W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan first collaborated on a piece called Thespis, an 1871–72 Christmas season entertainment. Although it was reasonably successful, the two did not work together again until February 1875 when Gilbert read to Sullivan the libretto for Trial By Jury: An Operetta, which had originally appeared as a single-page illustrated comic piece in Fun magazine.

James Mills

Drawing on his brief practice as a barrister, Gilbert wrote Trial By Jury as a spoof on the law, lawyers and the British legal system. During the Victorian era, a woman could receive compensation from a man if he failed to marry her after their engagement. In Trial By Jury, the comely Angelina (Rebecca L. Hargrove) hauls Edwin (Cameron Smith) into court after he leaves her for a new sweetheart. Various solutions are proposed, as Agnelina captures the hearts of the Usher (David Auxier), all the members of the jury and the Judge (Daniel Greenwood), who offers to marry Angelina himself.

Sullivan loved the piece, and so the duo embarked on a collaboration that would transform Victorian theater. In fact, one could easily argue that the modern musical, in which book, music and lyrics combine to form an integrated whole, began with Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas. What’s more, they elevated light opera to a position of respect, in contrast to the bawdy French operettas.

Running only 30 minutes, Trial By Jury is generally presented along with at last one other piece. And so New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players offer it as a curtain-raiser for their piece-de-resistance this season, The Sorcerer. Directed by James Mills and conducted by Joseph Rubin, Trial By Jury is playful, tuneful and thoroughly enjoyable. 

Michelle Seipel and Daniel Greenwood.

After the success of Trial By Jury, several producers tried unsuccessfully to reunite Gilbert and Sullivan. Finally, in 1877, Richard D’Oyly Carte created the Comedy Opera Company, and by July 1877, Gilbert and Sullivan were under contract to produce a two-act opera. Gilbert expanded on a short story he had written the previous year for The Graphic, “An Elixir of Love,” based on Gaetano Donizetti’s eponymous opera.

In Gilbert’s version, there are several sets of amorous couples in the village of Poverleigh. Alexis (Daniel Greenwood) is engaged to Aline (Michelle Seipel). Constance (Laura Sudduth) has a teenage crush on Dr. Daly (David Macaluso), the aging village vicar, who believes he is too old for love. Sir Marmaduke (Matthew Wages), Alexis’s father, and Lady Sangazure (Hannah Holmes), Aline’s mother, still carry a torch for each other. But it is when Alexis, who wants everyone to fall in love and marry without regard for social status, gets John Wellington Wells (James Mills), a shopkeeper who sidelines as a Sorcerer, to administer a love potion to the unsuspecting citizenry, that things really get complicated.

Rebecca Hargrove and Bridesmaids.

Although the acting and singing in this production, directed and conducted by Albert Bergeret and David Auxier, is uniformly excellent, Seipel is especially noteworthy for her beautiful, high soprano. And Mills is admirable in his rendition of the patter song, “My Name Is John Wellington Wells,” in which the Sorcerer lists all the potions he has for sale and what they can do: “He has answers oracular, bogies spectacular/Tetrapods tragical, mirrors so magical.”

Alas, the joys enormous of this performance could not last past the fun of a two day run.

The Sorcerer & Trial By Jury ****1/2
Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, 695 Park Ave.
April 6 & 7, 2024
Photography: Danny Bristoll