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Student-written Foundling yearns for editing

The Foundling (or A Basket of Ham)

By Mary A. Finn '81 and Robert Weingart

MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players

Conducted by Robert Weingart.

Directed by Mary A. Finn '81.

Walker Memorial, Jan. 29 & 30, Feb. 4 & 6.

By Jonathan Richmond
advisory board

It's rarely a good idea to allow writers to direct their own work, as they don't know how to cut -- or don't want to do so. The MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players' production of The Foundling with text by Mary Finn '81 and music from conductor Robert Weingart is far too loose. It yearns for drastic shortening and overall tightening up. Taking around 50 minutes and coupled with a similar-length original G & S work -- Trial By Jury for example -- this parody might have worked. But, stretched into a two-and-a-half-hour evening, it becomes tedious.

Quite a few sections of text are clever and likely to appeal especially to G & S cognoscenti. The stylization of the characters is nicely-done and well-laced with inside jokes. But for every minute of mirth, there are two of yawning.

The music doesn't make things better. Robert Weingart is no Arthur Sullivan, and you won't be whistling any of his tunes when you leave -- they are not memorable. His direction of the orchestra is also limp. True, he is hampered by an appalling and thin string section whose endless scratching and scraping hardly ever becomes musical. But Weingart could have made the sound much more acceptable by pointing the rhythms more sharply; his music making lacked any connection to the buoyancy of Gilbert & Sullivan.

This said, there were notes of distinction from the woodwinds at several points in the evening. They certainly stood apart from the crowd.

The best performance of the lot comes from Sarah Rose Edelman as Prudence, the domineering nurse to doting fusileers. Her diction is sharp and timing is great. Her Prudence is a classic G & S creation with just the right amount of extra exaggeration to make it into a very funny parody.

Deborah Kreuze '91 also adds to the credit of this production with pretty singing and stylish acting. She contributes the evening's only poignancy in "Speak No More of Fierce Desire," a nicely-schmaltzy number where the music does manage to rise above the ordinary.

Thomas Andrews as Abelard -- would-be husband of Kreuze's Chloe -- rarely ranges beyond the adequate. While Jeffrey D. Manwaring did extract the occasional giggle from the role of Sir Humphrey Oliphant, his inability to pronounce the words he was singing made it impossible to determine whether the patter song he sang was humorous.

The chorus of noblewomen and fusileers is unbalanced in quality, but luckily perked up after the intermission to help put in place an entertaining finale. Things did speed up for a nicely written and executed elopement scene, and the production did happily end with more animation than it began. Pity the whole show doesn't dance with this sort of zest, though. Time to get out the editorial knives.