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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘The Gilbert and Sullivan Tavern Follies’ a carefree ride in Oshkosh

Critic At Large

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Theatre and Radio-TV-Film Department

Jordan Whitrock and Autumn Christiansen as modern-day Romeo and Juliet types in a scene from “The Gilbert and Sullivan Tavern Follies.” (UW-Oshkosh)

OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – In this time of COVID-19, a variant has caught hold at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

No, it’s not a mutant of the coronavirus. It’s an adaptation of the genre of Gilbert and Sullivan, the master teasers of the musical stage of the late 19th century.

W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s gusto gusted powerfully for many decades until a couple of generations ago.

They’re back in “The Gilbert and Sullivan Tavern Follies,” a happily strange, oddball, funny, weird, loopy, bizarre, mishmash whatchamacallit show unleashed online through May 15.

For scorching satire with fangs, there’s “I’ve Got a Little List,” one of the songs that makes no bones about who to blame for oh so much these days. The song is from 1885 from “The Mikado,” but it works very well today as it names names of current “society offenders” and embraces them with the sentiment of “may none of them be missed.”

The show is a hybrid in the manner of Sasquatch. It lurks, though with humor.

The story takes “Romeo and Juliet” and tosses it into today, complete with Instagram and such along with the pandemic. There’s a feud. It’s between taverns. The Montague and Capulet families are now Montee and Kapuletski. There are lovers who are trying to help their parents’ struggling taverns through the coronavirus crisis and come up with a COVID Masked Singer contest – all the while Gilbert and Sullivan songs are sung with many new words and variations in the music.

Tossed in are dollops of name-drops of Wisconsin and Fox Valley places and people. The now love-smitten Tony (the Romeo) previously was “only seriously interested in the Packers, Bucks and Badgers.” One joke has to do with the line “Who is Ray Nitschke?” The Winnebago Health Department is concerned about the contest being a super spreader. The famous song, “Modern Major General,” becomes “Modern Sturgeon General,” a kind of ode to fishing. And on and on.

The show is original and borrowed at the same time.

It’s from the adventuresome Merlaine Angwall of the faculty, with cohorts called “The Help” helping in directorial, musical and idea ways. Lots of ideas.

Also in the picture – making pictures, etc. – is the university’s Radio-TV-Film Department. The production was recorded on the stage of the Theatre Arts Centre with multiple cameras.

The student cast members wear clear-plastic masks. Everybody sings, with a few being really good singers (including Molly Hennig in “Poor Wandering One” during the end credits).

Visually and aurally, this ain’t Hollywood, but the show’s and cast’s energy powers through.

The on-stage band, dressed as pirates, adds to the funky bar atmosphere. The joke is the tavern owner can’t afford paying for any licensed music, so the band can play only Gilbert and Sullivan songs from the public domain.

Some of the songs are done with Elvis flavor, some as calypso, some as polka, some as romantic/melancholy. There is originality in the musical adaptations, too.

Fun and sassy go hand-in-hand with Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s been years since one of their shows has been done in this region, and this one is a reminder how snappy they are – and adaptable.

The show has the feel of a whole lot of the pent up in life today being unleashed. It dares to be different and succeeds. It’s a kind of spring break, carefree, party version of something or other set in a near-campus bar in Wisconsin. The bar serves cheese curds, and its beer with a shot has nothing to do with a coronavirus vaccination.

***

Creative: Book and original lyrics: Merlaine Angwall and The Help (Christopher Flieller, Eva Thelen-Dunphy, John Zarbano); original music and arrangements: Buttercup & The Willowtits (band); director – Christopher Flieller; musical director – Eva Thelen-Dunphy; producers – Justine Stokes and John Zarbano; stage manager – Hannah Olsen; costume designer – Eve Funnell (alumna guest designer); lighting design – Mark Spitzer; scenic design – Daniel Hobbs; sound design – Brian Ugorowski; technical director – Mark Spitzer; scenery construction – Raiden Montero, Shelby Edwards, Aubrey Kestell, G. Krenke, Stagecraft Class; scenic painters – Aubrey Kestell, Daniel Hobbs; props – G. Krenke, Aubrey Kestell; technology supervisor – Jeanne Oost; costume shop assistants – Alyssa Wodack, Autumn Christensen, Ali Basham; light board operator – Kev Kollman; sound board operator – Brian Ugorowski; deck and prop crew – Lucas Miller

Titan TV video production staff: technical producer – Kaitlyn Smith; engineer – Tyler Egnarski; director – Justine Stokes; technical director – Rachel Bartelme; remote camera – Will Dauss; camera operators – Eric Krueger, Nick Matteson, Franklin Roberts, Tevin Sharp

Cast:

Bob – Drake Hansen

Nick Montee – Matt Peplinski

Tony Montee – Jordan Whitrock

Karlotta Kapuletski – Molly Hennig

Heather Kapuletski – Autumn Christensen

Gwendolyn – Sami Markle

Edna – Ali Basham

Knute – Max Benitz

Chester – Nate Wolkoff

Mabel – Alyssa Wodack

Buttercup and the Willowtits: Percussion – Andrew Skiff; clarinet – Devin Winkel; saxophone – Ellie Thelen; violin – Buttercup (Eva Thelen-Dunphy); keys I – Michael Dunphy; keys II – Paul Telen

Running time: One hour, 18 minutes

Pay-to-view access to May 15: https://uwosh.universitytickets.com/w/?cid=170

Also: The campus production of The Imaginary Invalid” is part of the access.

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