"The Grand Duke" Review – The Savoyaires at Fifty

Chicagoland residents and visitors have had the opportunity to enjoy wonderful Gilbert & Sullivan productions offered by The Savoyaires for fifty years.  My husband and I had the delight of seeing Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Grand Duke or The Statutory Duel at the Chute Auditorium in Evanston on October 11, 2014.  The production runs only through October 19th, 2014 and, for anyone who enjoys Gilbert & Sullivan, I strongly recommend you get tickets soon.


This was the 14th and last of the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas.  After opening at London’s Savoy Theatre in March, 1896.  It closed after 123 performances, the shortest run of any of the operettas. The Savoyaires performed The Grand Duke previously in 1980.  I thought this note attributed to Harry Benford notes in the Gilbert & Sullivan Lexicon about The Grand Duke in the program enlightening, “Its principal shortcoming is that it is too long. Its principal virtue grows out of that very shortcoming: a competent director can omit songs, chop paragraphs of dialogue, and come out with a jolly evening of entertainment.  Try it; you’ll see.”  In my opinion, the Savoyaires have done this exactly right and the results are a “jolly evening of entertainment”.


In The Grand Duke, Gilbert & Sullivan come back to the theme of their first collaboration, Thespis: a troupe of actors taking political power. The plot centers around the mis-interpretation of a 100 year-old law that has never been used, statutory duels (decided by drawing cards). The leading man of the troupe, Ludwig, leads the rebellion against the miserly Grand Duke and becomes engaged to four different women before the plot is resolved.  The satire in Gilbert’s words and the Viennese tinge in Sullivan’s score are both the same and different from their previous works.


This production was an absolute delight.  I find it amazing that an auditorium generally used for junior high children can be so completely transformed.  The live orchestra was large and skilled, the fantastic set and costumes were wonderful. The intimate setting enhanced the performance, bringing to viewer into the action.  The cast is large and talented with excellent voices both sung and spoken.  Among a very skilled and talented cast the standouts were Rudolph (Kingsley Day), Julia Jellicoe (Clarice Warwick), Ludwig (Daniel Berry).  Kudos to the production staff that include: Producer, Laima Day, Stage Director, Terry McCabe, Music Director, Timothy Semanik, Choreographer, Todd Rhoades and many, many more.  Do come and do stay-the second act is even more riotous than the first.



The fifth decade of Gilbert & Sullivan:

Named for London's famed Savoy Theatre, the Savoyaires were founded in 1964 by conductor Frank Miller (principal cellist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) and writer Lilias Circle. The group's charter was to bring the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to audiences on Chicago's North Shore, a mission that was pursued with intense dedication. By 1980, with a production of The Grand Duke (directed by Philip Kraus), the Savoyaires became the first U.S. Company known to have produced the entire 14-operetta cycle, and Miller the first to have conducted them all. Since 1994 the Savoyaires’ productions have been presented in Evanston’s Chute Auditorium, marking a renewed dedication to bringing Gilbert & Sullivan to the community and introducing G&S to young audiences. In 2013 the company staged its 49th annual G & S production.


Join Savoyaires: on stage or behind the scenes
The Savoyaires are always happy to welcome new participants on stage and off. Open auditions for the annual production are announced in local newspapers such as the Pioneer Press, in theater and music publications such as PerformInk, and on this web site. All principal roles and chorus parts are open, and new performers are always welcome. The company also welcomes new orchestral players. If you are interested in this opportunity, please call (847) 835-1024. In addition, the Savoyaires are always eager to welcome anyone who would like to participate behind the scenes, from working on publicity or costumes to helping build and paint sets. If you are interested in any of these opportunities to participate, please contact the Savoyaires via email at [email protected].


Photo credit: Alan Teller

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