Gilbert & Sullivan Iolanthe is priceless weekend fare
Written by Gilbert & Sullivan.
The MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players.
Steve McDonald, Music Director.
Stage direction by Marion Leeds Carroll.
Room 54-100, April 21-22 and 27-29.
By Frank Wedekind and Alban Berg.
Lowell House Opera.
Agassiz Theatre, Radcliffe Yard.
April 19, 21, 25, 26 & 27.
By JONATHAN RICHMOND
O TO IOLANTHE. It's delightfully sung, well-acted, wittily directed, and simply masses of fun.
The 25-year-old Strephon is half-man, half-fairy -- quite a predicament to be in when your immortal fairy mother, Iolanthe, always looks like a girl of 17 and your fianc'ee isn't convinced that your relationship with her is entirely filial. The story weaves between the absurd and the sublime, but of course ends happily.
Out of many great numbers, the performance of "Love Unrequited" by Robert DeVivo -- playing the Lord Chancellor -- tops the list. With crusty voice, precise enunciation, and beautifully deadpan wit, his portrayal of a nightmare is hideously funny. Paul Matthews, declaring that "every boy and every girl that's born alive is a little Liberal or else a little Conservative" also draws much mirth.
Jenni Harrison has a quite appropriately muscular voice for a Fairy Queen who clearly wears the pants in this show. Hitting that quintessentially Gilbert & Sullivan mock seriousness right on the nail, her singing as well as acting is quite endearing, as well as entertaining.
Kristin Hughes makes a sweet-voiced, as well as charactered, Phyllis, while Robert Bullington is a suitably effeminate, as well as amorous, Strephon. "None Shall Part Us From Each Other" flows gracefully and melifluously.
Alida Griffith is pert and charming as Iolanthe, a mother anyone would be happy to love. She is touching, too, as she steps out of the Gilbert & Sullivan world of stereotypes briefly to display real human emotion as she risks death by revealing she is the Chancellor's wife.
David Harrison (Lord Mountararat), his tongue inextricably locked inside his lip, but his voice ever broadcasting broadly and majestically, is every inch the English lawyer. Jeffrey Manwaring (Lord Tolloller) doesn't have Harrison's strength of projection, but is amusing, too. Together they make quite a pair.
The chorus is quite simply the best I've ever heard in musical theater or operetta productions at MIT. The men's voices are strong, lusty, and always dead on cue: their incantation to the "Lower Middle Classes" is glorious. The women -- as fairies -- do well too, and the acting of one and all chorus members contributes immensely to the sense of freshness and life this production displays from start to finish. Marion Leeds Carroll deserves an accolade for her keenly-observed direction.
Steve McDonald -- in charge of music -- merits much kudos, too. The strength of ensemble singing and timing apart, he makes his orchestra not only deliver Sullivan's music with zest, but with an understanding of all those little, but important, elements of wit tucked into each phrase. The costumes by Kimmerie Jones W '91 are first rate, and draw laughs in themselves. The sets -- especially the Act II set which completely covers over the blackboard of 54-100, cleverly transforming the room from lecture hall to theater -- makes imaginative use of scarce resources.
In short, this production is priceless; it's success lies well above the standard Gilbert & Sullivan show. Now you know what you're doing next weekend.
SOMETHING you definitely wish to avoid next weekend is the new production of Alban Berg and Frank Wedekind's Lulu. The atmosphere on opening night was all very Harvard, and terribly stuffy. A grumpy, tuxedoed older gentleman was busy complaining to the box office staff that if the house wasn't opened in four minutes he'd leave and donate no further money. And leave he did. Little did he realize that he got a better deal out of the evening than those unfortunate enough to stay.
Yes, this is a tough show to stage, but the result is so shoddy that it should have been shelved. The tensions Wedekind develops are complex, and this cast has no idea to how project them. So a profoundly disturbing drama comes across as a half-baked, mildly amusing soap opera. The whole thing was completely unprofessional: The programs hadn't even been delivered from the printers, and the show's producer couldn't even give me the names of the characters. "Phone me tomorrow," she said, hardly providing an aide to what was happening on stage that night.
Lowell House has done some good stuff in the past -- their Marriage of Figaro last year was memorable -- so it's a shame they've missed the mark this time. Mark Iolanthe in your diaries instead.