Review: Strong cast makes musical magic in UMGASS' 'Iolanthe'
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In Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Iolanthe,” the political leaders of the time, the House of Lords, come in for their share of barbs as a bunch of do-nothings who hold their positions through privilege. And what do people think of our lawmakers today? Well, you know the answer to that.
And when the Lord Chancellor sings about “a new and original plan,” it’s hard not to think about how many elected representatives have pronounced something similar since G&S’s day.
But political observations, spot-on as they are, are only part of the tale. G&S’s satiric comic operetta that opened Thursday night at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, the fall production of the University of Michigan Gilbert & Sullivan Society, is also a love story that explores what might happen if humans and fairies crossed paths. In typical G&S fashion, there are impediments to romance, complications that vanish into thin air as the show comes to a close with its expected happy ending.
I will admit, “Iolanthe” is not one of my favorite G&S efforts. At just over two and half hours (with intermission) it seems long, and there’s too much hithering and thithering of gossamer-clad fairies for my taste. That said, this “Iolanthe,” directed Robyn Tierney, is a solid show that featured some excellent performances and outstanding ensemble work by a cast filled with many UMGASS veterans.
Joshua Glassman was a particular standout as Strephon, the half-fairy, half-human in love with Phyllis, the ward of the much older Lord Chancellor (who also has designs on Phyllis, icky as that may be). Glassman has a powerful tenor and acting chops to go along with them. His scenes with Phyllis (terrific soprano Alexandria Strother) were among the show’s best, in particular “None shall part us from each other.”
I absolutely loved the arrival of the peers, with their stodgy suits and patrician airs, taking the stage brandishing briefcases and, in one case, using a walker (with which Bob Davidow, a returning UMGASS veteran, did not miss a beat - brilliant!). The ensemble was just about perfect, led by Lord Tolloler (Jon Roselle) and Lord Mountararat (William Babbitt). Meanwhile, Jeremy Williams (Private Willis) made the most of his one solo, winning over both the audience and the fairy queen.
The white-wigged Lord Chancellor (U-M law professor Don Regan, in a masterstroke of casting) gets the show’s two patter songs, although his performance seemed somewhat restrained. In the case of what’s usually referred to as “The Nightmare Song,” the lyrics could sometimes not be heard over the orchestra.
Speaking of which, the Music Director Matt Balmer and his group delivered the usual stellar musical accompaniment that’s become expected from UMGASS. The overture, in particular was lovely. All in all, this production weaves musical magic.
Oh, and mark your calendars. The G&S spring production, “The Pirates of Penzance,” will be April 11-14.
"Iolanthe" continues through Sunday. For information, see the UMGASS website.