Review: ‘No Solemn Silence: A Gilbert & Sullivan Review’ at George Mason University’s Center For the Arts

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George Mason University (GMU) launched its Year of Gilbert and Sullivan Celebration with a clever, bright, joyfully sung musical homage to the masterful Gilbert and Sullivan team and its invented topsy-turvy world with No Solemn Silence: A Gilbert & Sullivan Review.

“Dance a Cachucha” from The Gondoliers. Photo by Rick Davis.

Packed with the wonderfully, never-ending energy of 20 or so singers and musicians from the GMU/College of Visual and Performing Arts, No Solemn Silence: A Gilbert & Sullivan Review was a delightful sampling of musical numbers from each of the fourteen Gilbert and Sullivan “Savoy Operas” produced between 1871-1896.

With introductory commentary for the musical numbers lively presented by one of the George Mason University theater students, the Review provided a great glimpse into the full Gilbert & Sullivan archives. The songs ranged from well-known songs from The Pirates of Penzance  and The Mikado, and I spied some in the audience silently mouthing to songs from operettas like Ruddigore and Patience that were lesser known to me.

Rick Davis. Photo courtesy of George Mason University.

The partially staged review was well directed by Rick Davis, who is also Dean of GMU/College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA). Davis has a keen eye for connecting singing talents to a particular song, and he also provided for an utterly non-static flow and movement for the 80 minute, intermission-free performance. No one merely stood and delivered a song. They were physically and facially animated as they sang. The student performers were confident, and thankfully, they did not take anything too seriously. After all, they were taking-on the comic gents who so had satirized the British upper classes; Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Sullivan.

The quickly flowing evening was composed of an opening medley of six numbers, that effortlessly moved into a pastiche of nearly 20 songs. The wonderful, melodic music direction and piano accompaniment was by Joseph Walsh At fitting moments, the trumpet talents of Anthony Dass added brassy vigor and depth to the evening.

To select particular student performances from such a able ensemble is almost unfair.  Each of the students was terrific. As an ensemble and singly, they were well-rehearsed voices and they sang with genuine confidence, great harmony, and looked happy to be up on the stage.

With that said, let me note four musical numbers that I really enjoyed:

“The Great Choruses Medley” which was a six-song medley that opened the evening with fun and pop as with entire Company singing in precision. Songs included:  “Happy couples lightly treading”; “Hark, the hour of ten is sounding”; “Toward the empyrean heights”; “Loudly let the trumpets bray’”; “Ring forth ye bells” and “Dance a cachucha.” And while they sang, the nearly 20 performers weaved about the stage with ringed-binders in-hand, sometimes carrying music stands, and not a bump or misstep to be seen.

Brittany Michaelsen-Mulkey. Photo by Rick Davis.

With an expressive impeccable operatic soprano, Brittany Michaelsen-Mulkey’s rendition of “A simple sailor” from H.M.S. Pinafore was divine. Her voice was pure, her diction was flawless, and it all seemed so effortless.

From The Mikado, Dylan Toms had a perfect patter for “As someday it may happen.” He brought well-deserved applause for his breath-controlled performance as well to the un-named author of the updated words that Gilbert & Sullivan have given every generation lyrics to update and poke fun at bold-face type celebrity figures including those of the “right-now.”

Also from The Mikado was, can I say it, the “cute” work from “three little maids” sung by Angelica Miguel, Julia Souza, and Kathleen West. They made it gleeful as they adapted poses to match the lyric of “everything a source of fun.”

Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe: Historic image and sketch from upcoming performance by Mason’s School of Music.

A technical design element to be noted was the projection design by Nicolas Barry. He had selected and crispy projected images from the David and Ann Stone Gilbert and Sullivan Collection, housed at the George Mason University Library. The black and white images added attractive visual interest to the evening, but well-emphasized each of the musical numbers. Over time, the live singing and the projected images seamlessly melded together and inspired each other.

My wife and I both left the performance happy and content. We not only took in the comic genius of Gilbert and Sullivan but we saw theater performers who graced the stage with their energy, and their vocal and comedic talents.

“My Name is John Wellington Wells” from The Sorcerer with Dylan Tom and members of the Ensemble. Photo by Rick Davis.

No Solemn Silence, a Gilbert & Sullivan Review played on February 17 and 18, 2017, at the Harris Theater on February 17 and 18, 2017, at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts – 4400 University Drive, in Fairfax, VA. It will be performed February 23 and 25, 2017, at the Hylton Performing Arts Center’s Merchant Hall – 10960 George Mason Circle, in Manassas, VA.

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