Falling Under the Spell of 'The Sorcerer'

The Sorcerer presented by H-R Gilbert & Sullivan Society at the Agassiz Theater through April 26

Saturday night at the Agassiz Theater, the curtain opened to a packed house. However, the average age of the crowd was well over 40, with the exception of young children (other than pre-frosh) and roommates of the cast. Why was it that the latest Gilbert & Sullivan production did not seem to appeal to the college-aged crowd? Was it that so many other plays and parties were happening that night as well? Was it the idea of a comic British play first performed in 1877 that turned of most theater-goers?

Well, for all who missed the show for whatever reasons, it's your loss. You missed one of the most charming and engaging musical productions to appear on a Harvard-Radcliffe stage this season. The entire cast gave strong performances, the orchestra played well without overwhelming the singers, and the simple set combined with a variety of lighting for a fantastic effect.

While some of the dialogue and song lyrics are a bit difficult to follow, the he plot line is simple. In a small English village, the betrothal of two of its wealthiest inhabitants, Alexis (Adam Wolfsdorf '97) and Aline (Jenny Little '99) is being celebrated by the whole town--with the exception of the lonely Constance (Jennifer Tattenbaum '99), who is pining away for the love of the ditzy but endearing Vicar, Dr. Daly (John Driscoll '99). Everybody seems enamored either with another person or with love itself. Even Alexis' pompous father, Sir Marmaduke (Jordan Cooper '99), admits that he too once adored Aline's noble mother, Lady Sangazure (Anja Kollmus). Delighted with the idea of everyone falling in love, regardless of class, age, or even personal tastes, Alexis ignores Aline's protests and enlists the aid of a sorcerer to cast a spell on the town through a love philter. The sorcerer, J.W. Wells (Joe Nuccio '00), complies, and the village falls into a deep sleep, from which everyone awakes to adore the first person of the opposite sex that he or she sees.

Of course, things go awry in the second act as previously happy couples fall in love with other people: Sir Marmaduke becomes engaged to Constance's mother, the lower-class Mrs. Partlet (Laurie Sheflin '97); Constance herself falls for the old and deaf Notary (Bill Plerholpes '00); and Alexis' own beloved Aline begins to adore Dr. Daly. Even the sorcerer himself, much to his disgust, is chased around a well by the lovestruck Lady Sangazure. Frustrated and furious, Alexis demands that Wells break the spell. Wells informs him that someone must be sacrificed to Satan, and it will be either Alexis or himself. At the townspeople's request, Wells leaves Earth for the fires of Hell, everybody goes back to his or her proper love, and everyone, we presume, lives happily ever after.

Each member of the cast shines with individual talent yet blends together well with the others onstage. Wolfsdorf and Little, as Alexis and Aline, give melodious performances that are a bit short on serious acting but big on charm. Their parents, played by Cooper and Kollmuss, delight the audience with their pining adoration for each other masked by their noble haughtiness. While Driscoll's voice is not as strong as the others,' his kind and dreamy demeanor makes the Vicar's character an instant favorite, drawing both sympathetic sighs and peals of laughter from the audience. Tattenbaum and Sheflin, who play Constance and Mrs. Partlet, give commendable performances both vocally and dramatically, through Sheflin runs out of fresh facial expressions rather quickly. The minor characters, such as the Notary and the village chorus, manage to sing and dance engagingly without upstaging the larger roles. Even Benjamin Berwick '99 wins huge laughs from the audience with his three lines as the pintsized sized page Hercules.


But the evening belongs to Nuccio, the ever-slick sorcerer who with one raised eyebrow can send chills down anyone's back. Without ever resorting to melodrama or slapstick comedy, Nuccio gives a performance that is as funny as it is frightening. His dry subtlety sparks laughter from almost everyone yet his mere presence casts an ominous shadow across the stage. His voice may not be as musically powerful as some of the cast's, but he has the power to enunciate and, most importantly, act, which more than makes up for his minor shortcomings as a singer. By the time he leaves the village for the eternal fires, you might easily find yourself shivering with relief even as you sigh with regret to see him go.

One particularly pleasant surprise of The Sorcerer is the orchestra. Still under the faithful direction of Bradford Chase, the musicians only occasionally overpower the singers. This problem has plauged many a show held in the Agassiz Theater. Fortunately, here it is finally remedied: One can hear most of the main characters even from the seats closest to the orchestra.

The set designers, lighting engineers and stage managers must also receive due credit for their work. The set itself is simple, but a wide variety of innovative lighting techniques are used, which helps enormously. Even with the same backdrop, the different atmospheres of a sunny day, peaceful night and the fiery wrath of the gates of Hell all appear successively onstage. In addition, the colorful and elegant period costumes add to the vivacity of the singers.

The Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players productions may not be the most popular theater events of the school year, but The Sorcerer certainly deserves its moment in the spotlight. A talented cast, beautiful costumes, a great orchestra and a 100-year-old script that still gets laughs all combine to make a show truly worth anyone's time and money. Perhaps you will resist the charm and musical delight that this season's spellbinding Sorcerer delivers. If you do, fine. You won't be cursed with anything, except maybe regret. But that would be welldeserved.