Our Year In Review

2017 was a year of risk and great reward.

     Following our highly successful 2016 production of The Pirates of Penzance, CG&SS was faced with a decision about what show to do next. HMS Pinafore, The Mikado, and The Pirates of Penzance are the best known and most popular works in the G&S canon. The Gondoliers, The Yeomen of the Guard, Iolanthe, and Ruddigore are less well known, but also generally popular. The “big three” always bring in big audiences. And the other popular but less well-known shows bring in somewhat smaller ones. But the “big three” and those others had all been performed by CG&SS in the past few years and a few of them several times in the past 15 years; hence a dilemma. It was too soon to repeat the big three and these other shows, so what show should we do next?

     Princess Ida, last staged by CG&SS in 2001, has always been a favorite of Music Director John Dreslin and one he had been encouraging the group for several years to stage again. But many in our group felt that staging Princess Ida was going to be a highly risky proposition. Some were concerned that it was too long (the only G&S work in three acts). Others pointed out the unique and potentially expensive challenges in costuming and props for the show. Some suggested that the style and length of the dialogs (written in blank verse, some of which are rather long) were extremely difficult to perform well, and that if not done well would disengage and lose the audience. There was special concern that there were elements in the story line and libretto which painted an unflattering and condescending picture of Ida and her women; a portrayal of women that would not play well to a modern audience. Princess Ida has a large cast of principals, and many wondered whether we could get enough talented performers to fill these roles. And finally, many worried that people would simply not support or come to see a G&S show they had not seen or heard of and that we would be left “in the red” at seasons end. But, after much consideration and discussion, we decided to forge ahead and stage Princess Ida.

     It took a lot of planning, creativity and hard work to bring our Princess Ida to the stage. But I am pleased to report that it paid off. Despite trepidations, CG&SS’s 2017 production of Princess Ida was an unparalleled success. Here are some of the things that were done to make it so.

     While we wished to stay reasonably true to Gilbert’s original libretto we also felt we needed to address some of Princess Ida’s shortcomings. To address concerns about the length of the show and some long and complex dialogs, Mike Loomis (Artistic Director) and John Dreslin (Music Director) made some strategic and surgical cuts to dialogs that they felt unnecessarily lengthened the show, added little to the scenes and made them tedious to an audience. Mike revised the ending of Act III to address the original libretto’s unflattering and condescending portrayal of Ida and her women. In the original ending Ida’s brothers are all defeated, forcing Ida to concede, abandon her plans for her university, and marry Hilarion. She and her women are made to look foolish for trying to free themselves from the oppression of a male-dominated world. In the revised ending only two of Ida’s brothers are defeated. Arac beats Hilarion and is about to kill him when Ida, because she has come to recognize Hilarion as someone worthy of her trust and love, intercedes on his behalf. Free from Arac’s clutches, Hilarion, who has come to admire Ida’s intelligence and the nobility of her aims, then proclaims his desire to marry Ida and join forces with her as a helper and her equal. And finally, Ida, recognizing her affections for Hilarion and the desirability of such a union, chooses to “yield to her heart,” marry Hilarion, and have Lady Blanche continue to run the university.

      Modifications were also made to the closing musical numbers in the Act III finale. The original finale ended with a waltz, “With joy abiding,” a rather tiresome reprise of “Oh dainty triolet” from Act I, that many felt was a bit dreary and wanting. While that was left in, an additional and upbeat song was added to the ending, with Lady Psyche (in a reprise of “For a month to dwell”) singing “Now Hilarion’s bride, has at length complied, so she’ll love this dandy for he’ll come in handy.” And in this ending all hail the new couple and proclaim their joy over this wonderful turn of events. Finally, at the end of the curtain calls, the entire cast reprised “The woman of the wisest wit” as they sang “so jump for joy and gaily bound” with our enthusiastic audience clapping and singing along.

     Our fears that people would not support the show and might not come out to see it turned out to be unfounded. We had record program ad sales from friends and area businesses and our attendance for Ida surpassed last year’s large audience turnout for Pirates. But this did not happen by accident. In part, it was a result of the friends, family and classmates of some our newest and youngest cast members coming out to see them. But it was also a result of a lot of hard work by our Marketing and Publicity Committee and our cast members publicizing and promoting the show. Part of that publicity effort included some of our principals performing in events at Saybrook at Haddam, Essex Meadows, Masonicare at Mystic, StoneRidge, and La Grua. These events gave us an opportunity to showcase our talent, and helped us promote our group and this year’s show. The showcases were a big hit and paid off handsomely, accounting for the sale of almost 100 tickets.

     2017 was also a year where we welcomed many new, talented and younger people to our stage. Claire McCarthy (who started performing with us in 2014), and last year’s newcomers Henry Cox, Bea Cox, Catherine Leuba, Meena Rajesh, Lalitha Shaviswamy, Erin Aldrich, Janet Aldrich, all performed with us again this year. And this year Claire, Henry and Catherine brought in many of their talented friends and classmates to join us on stage including: Andrew Lemire, Emma Lemire, Grace Murphy, Delia Light, Elizabeth Brown, Richard Brown, Jonathan “Finny” Ensminger We were happy to welcome back Erica Folta and Tori Kelpin, who had last performed with us in Iolanthe (2015). And we were delighted to have Sierra Manning, Rebecca McFarland, and Lauren Lentini (who have all performed G&S with SLOCO) join our cast. The talent and enthusiasm of our younger cast members and this year’s newcomers brought an infectious energy to our production that supercharged the show. Adding to that, and to Mike Loomis’s and John Dreslin’s terrific artistic and musical direction, were Marcia Miller’s wonderful choreography, and Pat Nurnberger’s colorful and skillfully crafted costuming. These elements coming together made this show something truly extraordinary.

     And last, but not least, we had Elliot Colloton, a senior at Valley Regional High School, join our production team, interning with us as our Assistant Stage Manager. Elliot naturally stepped into that role and did a remarkable job. Working closely with Stage Manager Cat McDonald, Directors Mike Loomis and John Dreslin, and with choreographer Marcia Miller, Elliot’s videos of our rehearsals, and his notes, observations, suggestions and assistance were extremely helpful to them and to our cast. And they earned him the respect of the entire cast and crew.

     So, 2017 was a great year for CG&SS. Working together we addressed concerns and overcame challenges. The ranks of our younger cast members continued to grow, bringing with them, and engaging, a newer and younger audience. And, despite everyone’s fears, Princess Ida, the show that many had never seen or heard of, was a huge success. It drew in a large and enthusiastic audience and received praise from many who attended as highly entertaining and one of the best shows that we’ve ever done.

John Freedman

Click here to see a Princess Ida slideshow and cast list.