Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Iolanthe"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


libretto by Sir W. S. Gilbert; music by Sir Arthur Sullivan
directed by Neil Donohoe
choreographic assistance and specialty dances by Michelle Chassé
musical direction by Bill Casey
conducted by Reuben Reynolds III

Iolanthe … Chris Ignacio
Strephon … Matthew Thompson
Phyllis … Sarah Ziegler
Lord Tolloller … Sasha Virginia Weiss
Lord Mountararat … Hannah McMurray
Lord Chancellor … Leah Joseph
Private Willis … Lindsey Larson
Queen of the Fairies … Dan Micciche
Celia … David Anthony Vogel
Leila … Corbitt Williams
Fleta … Jordan Fife Hunt*

John Farchione; Christopher Lyons; Paul Bud Weber;
Adam Levinskas; Peter Mills; Stephen Petrovich; Cory Kotas

Lauren Lukacek; Amanda Wilson; Ryley Conlon; Allyson Pace;
Susan O’Dea; Alison Eckert; Abby Walter; Stephanie Jenkins

* Dance Captain

Conductor … Reuben Reynolds III
Bass … Jared Cazel
Bassoon … Tzu-I Lee
Cello … Jessica Billings-White; John Hanifan
Clarinet … David Heikkinen; Jill Hogan
Drum Set .. Casey Cangelosi
Horn … Marco DeAlmeida; William Coffey
Millner … Nicole Millner; Carl Campbell
Trombone … Adam Arnold; Matt Wan
Viola … Matthew Owens; Maritsa Hristova
Violin 1 … Annabelle Tirado; Shuo Wang; Janet Jacobson; Ting Han Ho
Violin 2 … Reda Puodziuke; Patrick Shaughnessy; Leah Puleio

Even this theatre purist can be won over by a director’s reworking of a warhorse, provided he executes it with intelligence, style and a clear affection for the original material and I was won --- no, bowled! --- over by Boston Conservatory’s enchanting production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s IOLANTHE. Though this comic masterpiece has no instantly recognizable tunes to rival those found in the Big Ones, IOLANTHE is nevertheless in their league and Sir Arthur’s music for the poignant title character shows him at his most heartfelt. The plot is formulaic: the juvenile Strephon loves the ingenue Phyllis but before he can claim her hand, the evening must pass through numerous solos, duets and ensembles interspersed with vaudevillian banter, revolving around a troupe of fairies who wreck havoc on Parliament to the chagrin of its lords --- if you adore Gilbert & Sullivan, you know how delightful such nonsense is; if you don’t, then you’ve never seen Gilbert & Sullivan performed well and the Conservatory production is a fun place to re-think your opinion.

I must confess that my heart sank upon learning that director Neil Donohoe had cast all of the roles with the opposite gender, save for Strephon and Phyllis, to make a not-so-subtle plea for social tolerance of “fairies” but it rose again upon realizing that once Mr. Donohue had scratched his itch that he was content to stage IOLANTHE conventionally, enough (i.e. the fairies weren’t vulgar and the lords had the right mincing quality without appearing, well, effeminate); after awhile, it doesn’t matter if the fairies have romped right out of a Hasty Pudding sketch, cross-dressed between CATS and PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, or that the bearded House of Lords (some of them, quite handsome) sound like countertenors --- Mr. Donohue’s direction is consistently inspired and, assisted by Michelle Chassé’s additional footwork, captures the right blend of Sir W.S.’ whimsy and Victorian satire right down to the last fisticuff (typical line: “We were boys, together --- at least, I was.”) and his fresh, talented ensemble is near-ideal: Matthew Thompson and Sarah Ziegler are appropriately sappy lovers (Ms. Ziegler, with proper guidance, could become the next Barbara Cook); Chris Ignacio is a dignified, tremulous Iolanthe, moving in her celebrated plea; Sasha Virginia Weiss and Hannah McMurray are a sterling pair of silly-ass lords and Lindsey Larson, resembling a pudgy toy-soldier Rockette, is an adorable Private Willis. Dan Micciche’s Fairy Queen and Leah Joseph’s Lord Chancellor are in keeping with G&S aesthetics: Mr. Micciche is tall and possesses an astonishing alto voice; Ms. Joseph is petite, nimble and commanding (is Ko-Ko, next?) --- on the down side, Mr. Micciche occasionally camps it up for easy laughs and Ms. Joseph nearly strangles on her lyrics, rendering them incomprehensible (whoever said that patter songs must be delivered at breakneck speed? I say, slow them down and let the audience enjoy the word-play…). Amongst all of these fascinations, none can top the two finales where the voices blend into wave upon wave of glorious sound and one can imagine they are channeling through the characters' correct genders…fascinating!

Peter Waldron has designed a charming skeletal setting and Jeff Adelberg bathes it in magical light, especially whenever the fairies are near (a stunning moment: when the Queen appears on the bridge to announce Iolanthe’s doom, an infernal red glow appears behind her). This confection will be served for only a few evenings more --- the lords may sing that faint heart never won fair lady; I sing that not dialing has never gotten tickets.

"Iolanthe" (25 - 29 October)
The Boston Conservatory Center, 31 Hemenway Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 912-9222

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