Victorian Lyric Opera Company IolantheBy Bob Ashby • Feb 25th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Victorian Lyric Opera Company: (Info) (Web)
F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, Rockville, MD
Through March 3rd
2:30 with one intermission
$24/$20 Seniors/$16 Students
Reviewed February 16th, 2013
While perhaps not quite as well-known as the “big three” of Pinafore, Pirates, and Mikado, Iolanthe is arguably Gilbert and Sullivan’s most completely satisfying work. It features, among other things, the longest and most intricate of the G&S patter songs, “The Nightmare Song,” performed to perfection by Gary Sullivan in the current Victorian Lyric Opera Company (VLOC) production. With his energy, timing, active involvement with scene partners, and finely detailed movement and line readings, Sullivan (Gary that is, not Arthur) has for some time set the standard for comic baritone roles in the local operetta scene, and his Lord Chancellor was the highlight of the evening.
VLOC was founded in the late 1970s by disaffected members of the older Savoyards company, and in its early years it was ideologically dedicated to “traditional” performance of the G&S canon, meaning mounting shows as the by-then moribund D’Oyly Carte troupe might have done. VLOC’s founders would no doubt have been astonished to see director Alan Paul’s NRA-style staging of the Entrance of the Peers, featuring the men’s chorus in hunting outfits, carrying and occasionally miming shooting off rifles. (In the current climate, having the men frequently point their guns toward the audience was not cool, however.) Moving the scene outdoors and avoiding the rather dull graduation robe-like costumes often used for the peers was a good and innovative decision. Choreographer Felicity Ann Brown’s choice of having the men link guns and finish the number in a kick line was the production’s outstanding movement moment.
Iolanthe is unusual among the G&S shows in that Strephon, the male romantic lead, is a baritone rather than a tenor. Bennett Umhau, in addition to handling his vocal chores flawlessly, has nice comic moments, particularly an extended take when he learns the identity of his father. He also has excellent chemistry with Courtney Kalbacker as his lady-love, Phyllis. Kalbacker, a fine soprano, went more for physical comedy than some people playing the role have done, including some flirtatious poking and prodding of Private Willis. Umhau’s and Kalbacker’s singing and acting blended well in their two duets, “None shall part us from each other” and “If we’re weak enough to tarry.”
As the Queen of the Fairies, Denise Young is appropriately commanding in delivering her terrible edicts to the peers and somewhat over the top in fawning over Private Willis during her well-sung “Oh, foolish fay.” Stephen Herring has the appropriate physical stature for Private Willis, though he does not have the perfect bass-baritone sound for the role. Carla Rountree, as Iolanthe, Strephon’s apparently very young mother, sings “My Lord, a suppliant at your feet” touchingly, but with a touch too much tremolo. As the co-leaders of the House of Peers, Lords Mountararat and Tolloller, Tom Goode and Robert Teachout are weaker vocally than the other principals, and director Paul would have been well advised to restrain some of Teachout’s wilder acting moments.
Even more than in some of the other G&S pieces, the chorus in Iolanthe is a key to the success of the production, and VLOC’s large ensemble does not disappoint. Paul and Brown set them to moving effectively, their singing was accurate and almost always together, and their diction was precise throughout, even in complex bits like Gilbert’s wonderful three-part rhyme “I wouldn’t say a word that could be reckoned as injurious/But to find a mother younger than her son is very curious/And that’s a sort of mother that is usually spurious.” Given the precise and readily understandable diction of the principals and chorus, the production’s choice to use surtitles for some of the sung (but not spoken) lines was curious and, in my view, spurious. Generations of Gilbert and Sullivan singers have been trained to project every syllable with crystal clarity, and using a method best employed for words delivered in a foreign language was an unnecessary visual distraction. It did, however, generate a laugh when “hoi polloi” was projected in Greek letters.
The costumes (designed by Denise Young) were among the most attractive I have seen in a recent G&S production. The women’s chorus wore dresses in a rainbow of sherbet colors, nicely echoed by the colors in Dawson Smith’s varied lighting design. In addition to their first act hunting garb, the men wore, in the second act, tuxedo-like formal outfits accented with red sashes. Rebecca Myerson’s first act set consisted of a couple pretty groves of trees, one set over a bridge; the second act set, showing Westminster in the background, was even more effective. Iolanthe is not a prop-heavy show, but the production used stuffed animals – a sheep for Strephon and Phyllis and a teddy bear for the Lord Chancellor – to good effect.
The full orchestra, led by music director Joe Sorge, kept the tempo moving and, save occasional scratchiness in the strings and brief uncertainties in the winds, sounded good in accompanying the cast. Sorge and/or Paul made the unfortunate musical choice to delete Tolloller’s first act number, “Spurn not the nobly born,” leading to a jarring transition for people familiar with the show. It’s an enjoyable piece of music with cleverly ironic lyrics, and it doesn’t add all that much to the running time of the production.
I have always loved Gilbert & Sullivan, and it has been my absolute pleasure to direct Iolanthe with this wonderful cast. The Victorian Lyric Opera Company is a very special place, full of singers who really “get” Gilbert & Sullivan and are able to bring it to life so beautifully. I am indebted to the cast, crew, orchestra, and everyone who worked so hard to bring this fantastic operetta to life. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!
- The Lord Chancellor: Gary Sullivan
- George, Earl of Mountararat: Tom Goode
- Thomas, Earl Tolloller: Robert Teachout
- Private Willis, of the Grenadier Guards: Stephen Herring
- Strephon, an Arcadian Shepherd: Bennett Umhau
- Queen of the Fairies: Denise Young
- Iolanthe, a Fairy, Strephon’s mother: Carla Rountree
- Celia, a Fairy: Teal Ruland
- Leila, a Fairy: Brittany Stranathan
- Fleta, a Fairy: Amanda Jones
- Phyllis, an Arcadian Shepherdess & Ward in Chancery: Courtney Kalbacker
- Fairies: Lena Goldweber, Tuyet Gunter, Sarah Martin, Marianna Martindale, Jane Maryott, Stevie Miller, Francisca Moreno, Deborah Peetz, Pamela Sears-Rogan, Barbara Semiatin, Maria Wilson
- Peers: David Bradley, Les Elkins, Joshua Herstein, Chuck Howell, Rand Huntzinger, Ralph Johnson, Carlton Maryott, Josh Milton, Ed Vilade, Kent Woods, Timothy Aaron Ziese
- Producer: Denise Young
- Assistant Music Director: Jenny Craley Bland
- Choreographer: Felicity Ann Brown
- Audition Pianist: Jenny Craley Bland
- Rehearsal Pianist: Jenny Craley Bland
- Scenic Designer: Rebecca Meyerson
- Master Carpenter: William Kolodrubetz
- Costume Designer: Denise Young
- Props: Jane & Carlton Maryott
- Lighting Designer: A. Dawson Smith
- Photography: Harvey Levine
- Surtitles: Douglas Maryott
- Graphic Design: Erika White Abrams
- House Management: Cassandra Stevens
Disclaimer: Victorian Lyric Opera Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9182.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.