Brooklynites play major roles in updated Gilbert & Sullivan comical operetta ‘Patience’
Last Chance To See Production Before Summer Festival in England
The Blue Hill Troupe, founded in 1924 as an all-volunteer producer of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, retains the upper-crusted Upper East Side as the mainstay of its heritage. But as a performing arts company that has, for almost 100 years, donated its proceeds to New York charities, it thrived by attracting a diverse group of volunteers.
Through the years it filled ranks with talented performers (actors and singers) and dedicated back-stagers who worked by day at professional white collar jobs, all having in common an attraction to the “smell of the greasepaint , the roar of the crowd.”
Today, Brooklyn residents supply some of the “coolest, most talented performers” in that esteemed, dedicated group.
The current production of “Patience,” for example, features some lead roles that are sung by Brooklynites, and made more memorable by the unique adaptation of the operetta: it is set in the mid-1950s in the American Midwest. (Already the show has gotten such acclaim that it has been invited to compete in a G&S festival in England later this summer.)
Music and theatre fans in Brooklyn should seize this unique opportunity to get a seat at this show, which closes Saturday night, April 25. (Seats available Friday, 8 p.m. curtain, and two performances Saturday, matinee at 2, closing show at 8 p.m.)
In this production of “Patience,” the audiences seem always to be laughing and cheering. The plot line is hilarious, but more moving to audiences is the powerful blend of voices. David Pasteelnick, a Brooklynite who plays male lead Bunthorne, notes, “There is little in this world as glorious as singing full–throttle with an ensemble of 30-plus singers, backed by an orchestra.”
Crown Heights resident David Loewy, who plays Grosvenor, another male lead, has nothing but praise for his home borough, as well as Blue Hill Troupe.
“I moved to Brooklyn about 18 months ago to be nearer to friends,” he says. “And now there are at least two dozen people I care most about living within a four-block radius of my home…it’s neighborhood in the most literal sense.”
In his first general membership meeting with the Blue Hill Troupe — “not even a rehearsal,” he noted — the group sang together impromptu its theme song from “Pirates of Penzance.”
“It was the first time I had been a room with a critical mass of Troupers, and the glorious, ringing tone and a rib-shaking volume struck me,” he added. “I thought to myself: this is a sound I want to be part of.”
Chazmond Peacock, another resident of Crown Heights, plays Duke, one of the principal “military men.” He also notes that the superior talent pool in the Troupe can be daunting to a new member. Chaz, as he is called, has a big voice and a big presence on stage. But he says “the power of the Troupe as an ensemble can be intimidating and challenging to a singer, and I think that’s part of what keeps the quality so high.”
One Brooklyn couple, both native Germans transplanted by their companies, find their lives centered on Brooklyn and the Troupe. Patrick Bahners is a key member of the chorus in “Patience”; he gets to run onstage with a football (an American football, and this is probably the first time he had ever touched one). Teresa Lowe-Bahners works as a backstager.
“Two decisions after coming to New York have been fundamental to our happy life here,” says Teresa. “First, moving to Brooklyn, just two blocks from BAM; second, joining the Blue Hill Troupe.”
More pointedly, she adds: “The Blue Hill Troupe’s spirit of theatrical artisanship may have been very much Manhattan style 91 years ago (when the Troupe was founded), but those elements of ‘do it yourself’ and ‘never give up’ nowadays are 100 percent Brooklyn style!”
The Bahners were particularly delighted last year when the Troupe’s workspace — where sets are built over a three-month marathon prior to the show opening — turned out to be in DUMBO. It was a space generously donated by David and Jane Walentas.
Sarah Gilbert, who plays Ella in the closing cast, said “the Troupe is like a second family to me. Without them I would probably have moved back to Colorado by now. Brooklyn attracted me three years ago because I had a number of high school college friends living here.”
Nancy Havens, Blue Hill Troupe board member, assistant musical director and Trouper since 1972, says, “I have never seen the talent pool as high as it is now in the Troupe. We have two sets of leading characters — opening cast and closing cast, which alternate during the run. And I believe we would have no problem using a third set of leads if we needed them.” Indeed, those lead voices, and the voices of what has been called “the strongest amateur musical theatre chorus in the U.S.,” make up the signature strength of Blue Hill Troupe.
Fellow Brookynites reading this may still see “Patience.” Performances continue tonight and tomorrow at the landmark Hecksher Theatre inside the Museo del Barrio at 104th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
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