David Wannen grew up in Washington hooked on Gilbert & Sullivan musicals after seeing the 1983 "Pirates of Penzance" movie starring Kevin Kline. Today he is the managing director of the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, the company that this week marks 19 years of performances in Wolf Trap's Filene Center. An important perk of Wannen's job is performing with the company. On Saturday, the bass-baritone will play the title role in this season's production of "The Mikado."
"This is a dream job," said Wannen. "I love the role. I've been a huge fan of G&S since playing the role at Sheridan School, located at 36th and Yuma streets in D.C. By the time I was in the ninth grade at Gonzaga High School, I was playing classical saxophone and knew that I wanted to be in music. My family, who still live in the area, have always encouraged me to follow my dream, so when I discovered that I had a voice, I went to Eastman School of Music to major in vocal performance. After settling in New York, I joined the company.
"Along the way, I earned a business degree from Columbia University, toured as Lancelot with Robert Goulet in 'Camelot' and played the role of the Beast in 'Beauty and the Beast.' Since joining G&S Players, I've performed with them every summer at Wolf Trap except the year the production of 'Beauty and the Beast' played there."
After those tours, Wannen put down more roots in New York. His business degree proved to be valuable when Albert Bergeret, the artistic director of G&S Players, pulled him aside at a rehearsal and asked what he would think of working in the company office. At first it was a part-time job, but it soon grew to be full-time when he fired the troupe's agent and took over their national booking. His other duties now include fundraising, marketing, finances, and planning.
|» Where: Wolf Trap's Filene Center, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna|
|» When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday|
|» Info: $32 to $50 in-house, $12 lawn; 877-WOLFTRAP; wolftrap.org|
"The Mikado," "The Pirates of Penzance" and "H.M.S. Pinafore" are the big three G&S productions, with "The Mikado" holding the honors as the most frequently performed piece of music in history. It is also the most satirical. Audiences are drawn to the work for its references to contemporary individuals and events, a tradition that Sir Arthur Sullivan and Sir William S. Gilbert started. As the D'Oyly Carte production played from city to city, Gilbert and Sullivan followed along to learn the latest local scandals and update the lyrics to include the names of all the people the public wanted to have executed by the Lord High Executioner.
"David Macaluso, who sings the role of Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, has updated the references to tickle the Washington audience," said Wannen. "There will be lots of surprises. Along with the usual government agencies and celebrities, the song will make fun of Facebook, texting and lots of other things that are part of our everyday lives. As the Mikado, I sing 'Let the Punishment Fit the Crime.'
"In addition to the 24 actors and singers onstage, we bring our own orchestra, the conductor, a stage manager, assistant stage manager and lighting designer. For every other position, we use the local staff.
"This show is filled with wonderful humor, gorgeous costumes, beautiful music and great songs tailored for the theater. If anyone arrives at the show feeling low, they will leave in high spirits by the end of the evening."