From time to time, most performing arts organizations schedule a special evening of entertainment geared toward raising audience awareness as well as attracting much needed donations from well-heeled arts patrons. These sparkling “gala” evenings usually highlight an ensembles’ best or most popular performers singing, playing, or dancing to classical, pop, or Broadway hits. Click here for more events happening in this year’s Gala season.
The Washington Savoyards recently held their 40th Anniversary Gala, an “All-Stars” concert at Washington’s Atlas Performing Arts Center and we were invited. According to Kathleen Mitchell, the organization’s current president, “it’s the only one we’re doing this year, but it served at least two important purposes,” she said. “We wanted to have a fund raiser. But also, since we hadn’t offered a performance for awhile, we wanted our audience to know we’re still in business.”
Additionally, according to Kathleen, “we really wanted to do a show that would highlight our artists and the kind of work we do. So we structured this show as a history of Gilbert & Sullivan and the legacy they provided to American musical theater,” she said.
The stage was filled with the company’s singers from the past and present who have played many important roles over the years. All-Star songsters included Jean Cantrell, John Dellaporta, Annie Gill, Kristina Grandados, Liz Isbell, Stacey Mastrian, Marilyn Moore, Rob Ritter, Guillaume Tourniaire, and David Williams.
Making her debut with the Savoyards was longtime supporter and Atlas Performing Arts Center’s founder, Jane Lang. Also featured was Nancy Peery Marriott who joined the cast for their Saturday evening Gala performance. The singers were ably accompanied by the show’s music director William Yanesh who performed nonstop for the entire show.
The Savoyards initially burst upon the local scene in 1972. Then dubbed the Montgomery Savoyards, the new troupe was dedicated to performing the phenomenally popular musical comedies of famous Victorian British theater duo Gilbert & Sullivan.
By 1981, the ensemble had renamed itself the “Washington Savoyards” to reflect the fact that its performing casts were not just from Montgomery County anymore. The name change proved significant for another reason. In 1982, having performed in various Maryland venues for roughly its first ten years, the Savoyards found more established—and more centrally located—homes in the District; first in Georgetown’s Trinity Church (1982-87); later in the Duke Ellington High School’s theater and at Flashpoint; and now in its current residence at the Atlas.
Gala highlights included Liz Isbel’s and Marilyn Moore’s evocative performance of the famous “Barcarolle” from Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman, and their amusing take on Rossini’s famous “Cat Duet”; Stacy Mastrian’s energetic rendition of “Poor Wandering One” from G&S’ Pirates of Penzance and her boffo performance of the tricky “Glitter and Be Gay” party piece from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide; Jean Cantrell’s sparkling “Cole Porter Medley”; John Dellaporta’s animated take on Sheldon Harnick’s “She Loves Me,” as well as his duet performance, along with Guillaume Tournaiaire, of “Lily’s Eyes” from Marsha Norman’s The Secret Garden.
The entire ensemble concluded their performance with a rousing (and appropriate) rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” from State Fair. It was a fitting close to a fun-filled evening. But it was also a great plug for the Savoyards’ next concert date. Entitled—wait for it—“It’s a Grand Night for Singing,” the company’s next revue will run from April 20-May 6, 2012 at the Atlas and will highlight Rodgers and Hammerstein’s greatest hits.
Was the Savoyards’ Gala a success? “The donations we got are helping us to get ahead and stay afloat,” she said. “They will help pay for licensing and will help out a lot with our general housekeeping budget.” The Gala also helped raise enough money for the organization to “think positively about additional, serious marketing efforts” as their advance ticket sales can always use “a boost,” she said.