Nearly a century before the Searchers in the 1960s warned the pop music world about the unintended consequences of Love Potion Number 9, W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan cautioned English theatergoers about a similar elixir in their first full-length operetta, “The Sorcerer.”
The production, this year’s offering from the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Maine, hints at the denouncement of class distinctions, the giddiness of romantic love and the joys of young lust that would be the focus of the collaborators’ later work. “The Sorcerer” also foreshadows the fast-paced patter songs and the comic secondary characters that would become a hallmark of the duo’s best-known operettas, “H.M.S. Pinafore,” “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Mikado.”
Thursday’s opening night performance of “The Sorcerer” proved that after more than two decades of keeping Gilbert and Sullivan’s work before modern audiences, the society has not lost its touch or enthusiasm for the form. Even though the first performance before an audience at The Grand in Ellsworth was a bit rough, director Dede Johnson has sown the seeds of a delightful evening of escapism that should gel by tonight’s performance.
Lisa Blanchette as the ingenue Aline is delightfully charming. Her soprano sparkles as she embodies the quintessential young Gilbert and Sullivan heroine. Although there is not much spark between her and her true love Alexis, played by Steve Estey, Blanchette exudes enough charm for both of them.
Estey seemed hesitant and unsure of himself and his role Thursday night. He has shown in the past he is capable of giving a performance equal to Blanchette’s. No doubt, he will rise to her, and his own standards, before the end of the run.
The mesmerizing star of “The Sorcerer” is Joe Marshall as John Wellington Wells. Whether he is a conjurer or con man is never quite clear and that mystery is what makes the character so enticing. His deep voice resonates throughout the theater. Audience members not only see and hear the actor but also somehow feel him. When he sings, Marshall’s rumbling bass rattles rib cages.
Lindsay Wilson and Roland Dube are enchanting as the seemingly mismatched farm girl and village vicar. John Cunningham and Ginger Cunningham masterfully provide much of the comedy as the parents of the young lovers who romanced each other years before.
The 24-piece orchestra under the direction of Laura Green Estey could use another week of rehearsal, but the eclectic group of local musicians ranging in age from their teens to their 70s pushed through the score opening night with great aplomb. A cadre of people created the minimal but highly functional set, and lavish costumes which serve the production well.
“The Sorcerer” is not the best of Gilbert and Sullivan’s work. The production the society is offering, however, is an enchanting escape from global warming, economic meltdown and the doldrums of winter, and a chaser to basketball fever.
“The Sorcerer” will be performed at 7 tonight and 2 p.m. Sunday at The Grand, 165 Main St., Ellsworth. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and children. For information, call 667-9500 or visit www.grandonline.org.