Pioneer Press: ‘El Capitan’ delivers rollicking salute
By Rob Hubbard, Special to the Pioneer Press
Saturday, October 9, 2010
You know that old saw
about the actor who says, “What I really want to do is direct?” Well,
who would think that the master of the march, John Philip Sousa, really
wanted to be America’s answer to British comic operetta composers
Gilbert and Sullivan?
Yes, musical comedy may have been the March King’s true love,
and he actually was pretty good at it, judging from a very funny and
tuneful production of his operetta, “El Capitan,” being presented by
VocalEssence. Known for presenting concerts of contemporary choral
music, VocalEssence is letting its hair down for two nights, indulging
in one of the most enjoyable presentations in the organization’s
Although the operetta is technically “semi-staged,” director
Vern Sutton and VocalEssence artistic director Philip Brunelle have
created a production full of movement, silly stage business and
brightly colored period costumes on all 10 dozen or so performers,
borrowing ideas from the Marx Brothers, 1930s screwball comedy and, of
course, Gilbert and Sullivan.
The plot is too convoluted to summarize here, but it’s all
about a Peruvian viceroy who masquerades as the rebel leader out to
depose him and finds himself fending off an angry wife, an amorous
coquette and the Spanish army.
While Brunelle coaxes fine performances from his expansive
choir and orchestra of nine, this production’s success leans chiefly
upon the terrific performance of Bradley Greenwald, who brings to the
title role the ideal combination of facial gymnastics, rubber-limbed physicality and what
might be the best voice on stage (which, with this group, is saying
something). He’s complemented well by a strong set of supporting
singer/actors, most notably Christina Baldwin, who brings a rich voice
and a Carole Lombard-esque combination of glamour and comic timing to
her role. Lauren Asheim also turns the silliness up a notch or two with
a comically melodramatic performance as the viceroy/Capitan’s daughter.
Does it sound like Sousa? Well, the insistent pounding of a march
is never too far away, and the composer displays the kind of layering
of lines you’ll find in tunes like “Stars and Stripes Forever.” While
there are times when the chorus is too full-voiced to make the lyrics
comprehensible, it’s still an evening of frothy fun.
What: VocalEssence’s production of “El Capitan” by John Philip Sousa
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Ted Mann Concert Hall, 2128 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis
Tickets: $40-$10, available at 612-371-5656 or vocalessence.org
Capsule: The most fun you may ever have at a VocalEssence performance.