Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Gilbert and Sullivan UnpluggedFlorida Studio Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule


Matt Kahler, Mario Aivazian, Lauren Vogel,
Dana Saleh Omar and Shawn Pfautsch

Photo by Sarah Haley
"Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen," Florida Studio Theatre is presenting Gilbert and Sullivan Unplugged, conceived and produced by Erik Schroeder with the libretto co-written by the cast. "Hurrah!" I am not going to mince words here, I am a Gilbert and Sullivan fan, big time. I first came to this repertoire at age about 5 and home, sick. My poor mother didn't know what to do with me, so she ran down to the local library and returned with the 1950s D'Oyly Carte recording of The Pirates of Penzance. My reaction? Meh. Mom, never one to give up without a fight returned Pirates and brought home The Mikado I loved it! I am deeply saddened by the fact that the work of Gilbert & Sullivan is decidedly waning in popularity so that full productions, especially of works other than the big three (Pirates, Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore) are a rare treat. I have only seen two full performances of any of the works during my 13 years in Florida, both miniature affairs, decidedly non-traditional.

Gilbert and Sullivan Unplugged is decidedly non-traditional. Accompaniment provided by a variety of instruments played by our five member cast and includes acoustic guitars, bass guitar, mandolin, clarinet, saxophone, flute and assorted others as needed. The strongest element of this show is the enthusiasm of the cast for the works. All have performed in productions of complete works, often together, in the past. Cast member Mario Aivazian is the only person ever encountered who probably can out-geek me in his knowledge of the world of Gilbert & Sullivan and his expertise becomes a comic point in the second act, when a spin wheel is brought out with their 14 works on it. Someone spins and Mario sings a bit from whatever piece comes up. He acquitted himself more than nobly at the performance I attended. When Princess Ida popped up he didn't go for the well known patter song, he reached into his brain for a trio sung by King Gama's three sons.

All of our performers have fine voices, just not voices with the operatic sheen required for a first class Gilbert & Sullivan production. Starting at the top of the staff, Lauren Vogel is our soprano. Her highlights include "Poor Wandering One" with its staccato F's, "The Hours Creep on Apace," and "I Am the Captain of the Pinafore" in a gender switch. Dana Saleh Omar is our second soprano whose highlights include "The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze," "I Am a Monarch of the Sea," and participation in the trio of trios ("Here's a How-d'ye-do," "When You Had Left Our Pirate Fold," and "Never Mind the Why and Wherefore"). Shawn Pfautsch sings all over the range, contralto (Katisha), tenor (Nanki Poo), and baritone, which I am guessing is his natural placement. His highlights include "A Wandering Minstrel" (at least 2/3 of it, which is all he sings), "Fair Moon, to Thee I Sing," and "Alone and Yet Alive." Mario Aivazian is a baritone but can push down for his highlight, "Oh Why Am I Moody and Sad?" Matt Kahler is our bass and the music adaptor/musical director, highlighting on "Oh, Better Far to Live and Die" and a piece from Yeoman of the Guard ("When Jealous Torments") that I don't think I have ever heard before.

It's great to have Gilbert and Sullivan Unplugged in town. Sometimes I need a fix, beyond my complete set of all 14 operettas, plus a couple of others by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company from their 1960s-'70s prime. I hope audiences enjoy it as much as I do and maybe it will ignite some renewed interest for full productions.

Gilbert and Sullivan Unplugged, through September 23, 2018, at Florida Studio Theatre, Court Cabaret, 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at 941-366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Mario Aivazian, Matt Kahler, Dana Saleh Omar, Shawn Pfautsch, Lauren Vogel


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