Tarantara! Tarantara! tells the story of the two collaborators and their producer, Richard D'Oyly Carte and includes generous excerpts from their Savoy successes: Trial by Jury, The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Gondoliers among others. By contrasting the onstage successes with the backstage tensions, Taylor creates a play this is both funny and sad.
Sad because it makes you wonder why these two gentlemen could not simply enjoy their popularity. Instead we witness two massive egos colliding. Sullivan, in fact, does enjoy his growing wealth but exhausts it, living a life of wanton excesses. This irritates Gilbert who has to frequently badger the composer to get the operas finished in time for dress rehearsals.
Will van der Zyl plays the thin-skinned Gilbert with simmering anger, watching as his collaborator loses his fortune and ultimately his health doe to over-indulgence.
The passive-aggressive Sullivan, as played by Daniel Godin, wants to be taken seriously as a composer of concert music, not as a writer of what he considers to be frivolous comic operas. Mediating all of this is Stephen Flett as their long suffering producer who has a vested interest in keeping the team together. His office literally becomes the center ring in the topsy-turvy world of 19th century operetta.
Lorraine Green Kimsa efficiently stages the piece so that a large open area between them is a circle of light representing the Savoy stage, and into this circus ring come the various performers: haughty divas and uptight tenors who perform the musical segments. Sullivan's desk and Gilbert's desk are directly opposite each other, facing off in preparation for their next battle. It's likely no accident that D'Oyly Carte's desk is positioned closer to Gilbert's side of the stage.
Tarantara! Tarantara! is not a musical, but rather a play about music. Chris Burton provides the piano accompaniment, and leads the ensemble of singers as they perform selections from the featured operettas. The choral work comes across as occasionally underpowered with nine singers employed to handle music that is normally sung by a chorus of thirty. The attention to Gilbert's clever lyrics helps compensate.
When the music takes over the stage, the magic of the Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration is delightfully showcased, allowing us to temporarily forget the tensions caused in creating these masterworks. Sadly, one need only read biographies of Rodgers & Hammesrtein, Lerner & Loewe, or Lloyd Webber & Rice to see this history has constantly been repeated.
Tarantara! Tarantara! plays until Saturday May 19 at Fairview Library Theatre, 35 Fairview Mall Drive. For tickets visit http://www.stagecentreproductions.com/ or call 416-299-5557.
Photo credit: Fabio Saposnik