Genesius Guild opened its 51st season on Saturday with Gilbert & Sullivan's comic operetta Patience - co-produced by Opera @ Augustana - and the signs were good right from the beginning.
For one thing, the weather was cooperating in a way it wasn't during last summer's season-opener in Lincoln Park, which found our Mikado audience shivering through unseasonably, even ridiculously cold temperatures.
For another, those in the crowd - and there were a lot of us - appeared to be feeling equally sunny. New executive director Doug Tschopp and conductor Ron May received warm, welcoming applause, and there was even a good-natured laugh during Tschopp's pre-show remarks, when a woman in the front row - realizing that he had neglected to introduce himself - blurted out, "Who are you?" ("Your tour guide for the next 11 weekends" was Tschopp's quick rejoinder.)
The promise of a delightful evening continued with the first strains of Patience's score, which May's seven-person orchestra played with enthralling panache. It continued further with the first appearance of the gorgeously costumed female ensemble, several of whom (Kirsten Brown and Dorothy Hoskins especially) seemed as comedically game as they were vocally assured. It continued further still with the arrival of the male chorus - the strongest I've heard over the past three Guild seasons - and the introduction of Brian Nelson, whose splendid baritone got an early workout during one of those delightful, intensely wordy Gilbert & Sullivan patter songs.
And then Michael Callahan showed up, and if there were any lingering doubts concerning the night's entertainment, the performer promptly erased them.
Patience is another of Gilbert & Sullivan's exquisitely silly romantic roundelays, wherein a host of foolish characters - none, perhaps, more foolish than the dairy maid of the title (Lyndsie VanDeWoestyne) - wind up getting exactly what they want through absurdly convoluted means. But the show-stealing figure is tortured poet Reginald Bunthrone, a foppish dandy modeled after Oscar Wilde, and Callahan not only sings the role with extraordinary resonance and clarity, but proves - as he was in The Mikado and 2005's The Pirates of Penzance - a stunningly clever comedian. Delivering his florid pronouncements with hysterical oomph, Callahan delivers a performance of perfectly calibrated too-much-ness; over two hours, I don't think he utters even one predictable line reading.
Callahan's emergence as a supremely confident vocalist and comic here comes as no surprise. The surprise is that someone in the cast actually matches him. Nicholas Nolte portrays Bunthorne's romantic and aesthetic rival, Archibald Grosvenor, and the actor not only reveals a beautiful tenor, but underplays as shrewdly as Callahan overplays. A less obnoxious, equally ridiculous poet, Grosvenor sees his ravishing good looks as a cross to bear - "Yes, Patience," he sighs to our heroine, "I am very beautiful... ." - and Nolte's egomaniacal utterances are sublimely enjoyable.
Boasting a lovely soprano and true comedic spunk, VanDeWoestyne's frequently dotty ingénue is a stitch - when Bunthorne suggestively asks, "Do you ever yearn?", Patience brightly responds, "I yearn my living... !" - and the show also boasts slyly funny (and marvelously well-vocalized) performances by Christopher David Walljasper, Brent W. Behrens, and Linsy De Pooter. Though there are a few dead spots in directors John Pfautz's and Angela Hand's generally effective staging, particularly in the moments leading up to the songs - the performers basically stand face-front and wait for their musical cues - I can't imagine having a finer time at Patience; Genesius Guild's season has begun on a sensationally enjoyable note. Here's hoping the rest of the stops on the organization's summer tour prove equally enchanting.
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