Iolanthe | Theater Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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The Gilbert & Sullivan canon still thrives in Carnegie, where Pittsburgh Savoyards have been presenting this type of amusement more or less regularly for 70 years. Clearly an audience exists.

A retooled version of the company returns from hiatus with Iolanthe, in whose silly plot G&S devised quite the potential for hilarious entertainment.

A flock of fairies (19th-century version) supplant members of England's House of Lords after one of them, Iolanthe, weds a mortal and produces a half-human son, Strephon. He falls in love with a human, Phyllis, much adored by the Lord Chancellor as well as by Lord Mountararat (note the name) and Lord Tolloller.

Meanwhile, the Queen of the Fairies thoroughly admires a common soldier, Private Willis. The question before the house: Can women with magical powers be allowed to fall head over wings for mortals? Further, can such extraterrestrials wield power as skillfully as they wield wands?

Don't expect profound answers or deep symbolism, although hints of satire peek through. And note that Strephon's lower half is human. (A bit risqué, what?)

If directed and played with wild, comic invention, such nonsense could become a laugh riot. But long-time G&S fans tend to cherish something more traditional, as if maintaining Victorian style. And the latter seems to be the intention here.

Director Sally Denmead apparently did make one very good choice -- avoiding emphasis on perfecting British accents, thereby allowing the performers to use their precious time and energy concentrating on essentials. And indeed, everyone in the Savoyards cast sings admirably, while presenting acceptable suggestions of character. And the large orchestra, ably directed by Guy Russo, gives a reasonably good account of itself.

As for Gilbert's intricate lyrics, which dominate the proceedings, the acoustics of Andrew Carnegie Free Library Music Hall don't seem ideal. However, on opening night some attendees clearly already knew the words and remained thoroughly satisfied. And the story comes across clearly enough.

Still, most of the cast plays the roles without much definition, suggesting stock characters, some declaiming instead of implying actual speech, human or fairy.

Moreover, you might wish that Sullivan had written more melodious lines instead of trying to fit notes to Gilbert's words, especially hearing Rachel Myers' excellent voice as Phyllis. However, you can get musical satisfaction in a good early duet between Myers and the capable Justin Thomas Zeno, as Strephon, or in a charming second-act quartet by Mountararat, Tolloller, Phyllis and Private Willis.

You will get glimpses of greater potential. You can especially see it in Corey Nils Wingard, who, as Mountararat, stands out with personality and style. Had Denmead managed to get more of her cast to equally play up the folderol, a better time could be had by newcomers to G&S, as well as by those already in the know.

 

Pittsburgh Savoyards present Iolanthe through Sun., March 15. Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie. 412-724-8276 or www.pittsburghsavoyards.org

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