Eric Brooks as RDC Carter and Lydia Gaston as Angelina Carter.

Courtesy of Dave Burbank

Eric Brooks as RDC Carter and Lydia Gaston as Angelina Carter.

October 23, 2016

Perfectly Sensible: Precious Nonsense at the Kitchen Theatre

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The aptly-named musical Precious Nonsense is advertised as a simple diversion from the stress of everyday life, and it delivers. Playwright and artistic director Rachel Lampert’s production is fun and lighthearted, serving as pure entertainment. The show is not new to the Kitchen Theatre; Lampert’s sister, Sara Lampert Hoover, directs as she did in the original production in 2004 and Eric Brooks reprises his role as RDC Carter. Lampert spoke to the audience before the show began on opening night and explained that the production was chosen to run at this time to distract theatre-goers from the stress of world events like the upcoming election, and it certainly does its job.

The musical is set in the 1930s and follows the lives of members of a touring theatre company, the Carter Family Savoyards, dedicated to sharing songs from the comedic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Many of the songs are adaptations of the originals, and all are sung by the cast and accompanied by the company’s pianist, Herbie (Thomas Conroy, who is also the music director). The set is simple and serves the plot without distracting from it. Angelina (Lydia Gaston) and RDC Carter (Eric Brooks) are the heads of the Carter Family Savoyards and clearly have a flair for the dramatic, constantly singing to each other and making grand speeches whenever possible. Their son Frederic (Coleman Hemsath) hopes to leave the company on his upcoming 25th birthday, but his parents want him to stay and take over with his childhood friend Josephine (Jillian Gottlieb), the archetypal ingénue, so they can soon retire. Josephine and Frederic are aware that Frederic’s parents want them to marry, but realize that neither is romantically interested in the other. Both thus become free to pursue other people, which naturally results in chaos, including a song that ends in a bizarre make-out scene between the two.

The Carter Family Savoyards originally intend to perform simply a series of songs by Gilbert and Sullivan but, due to the orders of the man paying for the play, they are required at the last minute to produce the full-length show The Pirates of Penzance instead. This change requires Pete (Patrick Halley), the stage manager and cynical bachelor, to conquer his stage fright and participate in the show and to eventually confess his feelings for Josephine. It also introduces Samuel (Weston Allen Kemp), an aspiring performer who immediately falls in love with Josephine, and Mack/Mabel (Emily Jackson), Josephine’s sister who disguises herself as a man to in order to get a role in this production and perform with Frederic so she can be with him. Frederic falls for her too, even before realizing that that “Mack” is really Mabel. The romantic feelings among the cast become apparent in the production; in many ways, the events of The Pirates of Penzance mirrors the actions of the characters in Precious Nonsense, and the goings-on backstage begin to blur with the plot of the show. Despite the many entanglements, the musical has a happy ending for all but one, who is comforted while comically being dragged away from the scene.

Patrick Halley seems comfortable onstage, but convincingly plays someone who clearly is not. Pete, playing the Pirate King, constantly struggles with his high-heeled shoes and wobbles around the stage, and his nervousness before his first song is palpable. Fortunately, Pete becomes more comfortable and brings down the house with an upbeat song announcing that he is the Pirate King. Halley and Gottlieb, who plays Josephine, definitely deliver the most comedic performances of the musical. Gottlieb brings Josephine to life with silly quips and giggles at every turn, and makes the conceited character likeable. Mabel’s situation adds to the hilarity, particularly when she is forced to keep her fake mustache while she and the male actors play women, which of course is not exactly playing for her.

Precious Nonsense starts out slow and is not the kind of musical that appeals to those who don’t love musicals, as it fits just about every stereotype about musicals. Half the characters fall in love at first sight, they constantly break into song, and the actors gesture flamboyantly with every dramatic line. However, it is also a very self-aware production and the characters poke fun at their own problems. For those who like traditional musicals and have a good sense of humor, the show is simply fun and charming. The entire cast is very vocally talented, and Gottlieb’s dramatic, vibrato-filled entrance and Brooks’ performance of the fast-paced “Modern Major-General’s Song” are especially memorable. The use of Gilbert & Sullivan’s work would likely alienate some younger theatregoers were it not for the show’s quirky humor, which left audience members, including myself, chuckling through the reception after the show.

Precious Nonsense will be performed through November 6 at the Kitchen Theatre.

Emily Fournier is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ejf225@cornell.edu. 

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