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An entertaining adaptation of an entertaining adaptation
Though nothing in the credits mentions it, this production is obviously based on the Tony-winning 1980 Joseph Papp Shakespeare in the Park production, which starred Kevin Kline and Linda Rondstadt and was a massive hit on Broadway and later in the West End in London. Eventually it was redone as a film which was very entertaining but lacked too much of the excitement of live stage.
Fortunately, someone decided to tape a live performance of this newer version, capturing much more of the energy and audience response which was missing from the earlier film. What makes both versions special is the approach to the original material. Too many G&S productions are stodgy, treating the music as sacrosanct and the humor as too dated to get a laugh. Here every bit of silliness in the script is brushed off and made funny again. The "orphan/often" misunderstanding early in the play has been cut from most productions for decades by directors who didn't have a clue how funny it could be if performed as high comedy. There are dozens of other similar moments in this production, which never for an instant lets the audience forget that this is a COMIC opera.
At the same time, it is a comic OPERA, with some of Sir Arthur Sullivan's most beautiful melodies. Helen Donaldson as Mabel and Simon Gallaher as Frederick particularly have lovely voices and sing their romantic songs beautifully.
I do feel that this production is frequently over the top in milking the humor, but that is one of the intrinsic problems of filmed live performances, and the audience was clearly having a great time enjoying the antics of Jon English. And Tim Tyler as the police sergeant is incredible. A cross between a Keystone Kop and a very long rubber band, he steals every scene he is in.
G&S purists generally dislike updated productions, but for the rest of us, this production is a treat.
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