HAMS SIGHTED AT MITG&SP. There is a kind of loopy recursiveness about The Foundling. The characters know that they are "typical" G&S characters, but never let that knowledge break through the fourth wall as they happily plow onward through the logical contortions of Mary Finn's ingenious plot -- not exactly Hamlet's players, but you get the idea. Finn's libretto displays a deep grasp of the pacing and flow of Gilbert's scripts that has eluded virtually every other would-be Gilbert parodist I've encountered. Aside from a tiny few anachronisms, her book remains solidly within the vocabulary of Victorian England and thus avoids the quagmire of jarring modernisms into which most writers of texts purporting to be "in the tradition of G&S" inevitably wander.
Bob Weingart's music for The Foundling is to the operettas of Sullivan what Prokofiev's Classical Symphony is to the symphonies of Haydn: it uses the forms and rhetoric of Sullivan without attempting to impersonate him (except in those moments when, as was said of Handel, "mediocre composers borrow, but great composers steal"). As a conductor, arranger of G&S reductions and teacher of songwriting at the Berklee College of Music, Weingart is singularly qualified for the task of writing neo-Sullivan, and has done so with acuity, wit, and immense skill. And you really will leave the hall whistling the tunes; weeks after the show many of its melodies remain firmly lodged in my brain.
The care and craftmanship which went into the writing of this show is visible in its fine points: Sir Humphrey (the patter baritone), after being reminded that the leading man is named Abelard, not Abraham, dutifully scribbles in his notebook, "No ham!", an amusing premonition of a gastronomic commodity whose mysterious absence fuels the plot of The Foundling. At another point, as Sir Humphrey again struggles to recall the name of the aforementioned gentleman, the orchestra congenially supplies the leitmotif (or "signature tune", as Anna Russell would have it) associated with that name as a spontaneous mnemonic.
F&W, who proved themselves equally accomplished in their alternate roles as stage and music directors, respectively, were fortunate in having a highly capable leading quartet. The leading soprano (and swineherd) Chloe enters asserting that "No one, but no one sings higher than I"; Deborah Kreuze more than made good on that assertion. Her counterpart, Abelard, Captain of the 18th Fusilier Guards (and high tenor), was portrayed with an endearing combination of ardor and irony by Thomas Andrews. Susan Rose Edelman brought a Salvation Army earnestness (and some lovely singing) to Prudence, "a well-trained nurse" (and naturally, a contralto). And Jeffrey Manwaring nearly stole the show with his befuddled portrayal of the absent-minded Sir Humphrey Oliphaunt, who does--against the odds--make it through "the dread patter song". Falla Smith (Alice), Ronna Lee Broadwater (Ellen), Erik Mueller-Harder (Clarence) and Adam Lindsay (Edward) made the most of their "chorus lead" roles, and shone in their "premarital sextet with Chloe and Abelard. Special praise is due to Karen Mueller-Harder for her choreography, and to the chorus for their skill in executing it.
Weingart has scored The Foundling for an orchestra of the early Romantic period (no marimba orgies here), and the substantial ensemble which he pulled together for this run performed admirably given the unfamiliarity of the material and the inevitable situation of the ink on the overture being scarcely dry on opening night. Designers Wendy McHugh (sets), Mike Bromberg (lighting) and Kimmerie Jones (costumes) deserve congratulations for the quality of their work and sympathy for having to do it in a godawful barn like MIT's Walker Memorial dining hall.
I saw The Foundling twice. Normally, I would be loathe to subject myself to even a first round of anything billing itself as a G&S parody, but I would have happily gone back a third time for The Foundling. It is an absolute delight.-- JAMES CARROLL