New York based company brings “The Pirates of Penzance” to Columbus

David Wannen is a busy fellow. He’s the managing director of the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (www.NYGASP. org), where he does the booking and marketing. On top of that, he’s a singer and actor. “It’s a full-time job,” he said during a recent telephone interview. “I wear many hats.” So does Albert Bergeret, the company’s co-founder and artistic director. The company started in 1974 as a street theater, presenting Gilbert & Sullivan operettas on the streets of New York. It had a budget of $35, mainly to copy fliers to post around the city. Today, its budget is $2 million, due mostly to what Bergeret calls “sweat equity.” Bergeret said his company tries to present a quality product with its limited resources.

He realizes he presents “a somewhat limited but exciting body of work. There is always something fresh and exciting every time we do it.”

Wannen is playing the Pirate King in “The Pirates of Penzance” and Bergeret is conducting the orchestra.

NYGASP now presents what’s known as Gilbert & Sullivan’s “big three.” They are “The Pirates of Penzance,” “The Mikado” and “HMS Pinafore.”

Wannan got a degree in voice from the Eastman School of Music and after graduation, “I came down to New York to do the whole singer/ actor musical theater thing,” he said. “This company gave me my New York debut.”

Later, he studied business at Columbia University, and after a while Bergeret asked if he’d thinking about working for him.

Three years ago, Wannen joined the company. “It’s the perfect blend of both worlds,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot of different things coming into the real world.”

While NYGASP presents the “big three,” it will also present the lesserknown works of William S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, who wrote 14 operettas or light operas between 1871-1896.

“It is theater,” Wannen said about the Gilbert & Sullivan works. “It’s a way for presenters like the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts to introduce their audiences to very light opera.

RiverCenter executive director Enoch Morris agrees. “As operetta, these Gilbert & Sullivan shows are much more like musical theatre and usually sung in English and more upbeat than many of the traditional operas,” he said.

“‘The Pirates of Penzance’ is really operetta, which during its time would be equivalent to our modern-day musical theater,” said Earl Coleman, the Columbus State University associate dean of fine and performing arts and the William and Isabelle Curry dinstiguished faculty chair in voice in the CSU Schwob School of Music. “Those who sing operetta are usually trained classically as they would have been at the time of Gilbert & Sullivan. Yes, operetta is a coolest Gilbert & Sullivan role.” He says the role lets him put a little sex appeal as well as menace into the character.

NYGASP is now in its 35th year and the average company member has spent 11 years singing Gilbert & Sullivan.

“The core of the company is like a family,” Wannen said. “Many relationships have started and many marriages have started here. We play and work together.”

There are 17 actors, 23 musicians and four staff people in this tour.good introduction to opera.

“To appeal to the Collumbus audience, it would probably be best to equate it to musical theatre of the 19th century.”

These operettas are also the origins of situational comedy, Wannen said. “They are much more like the sitcoms that I grew up on. ‘The Simpsons’ often parody Gilbert & Sullivan works. And there is the beautiful music by Sullivan.”

Wannen’s role as the Pirate King in “The Pirates of Penzance” is “the