Theater review by Elizabeth Warnimont
Special to The Herald
Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe,” which opened at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on Friday, is a relatively simple tale by G&S standards. While many of the pair’s comic operas involve complex plot twists, “Iolanthe” (“I-owe-lantha”) is fairly straightforward.
The interest here lies not in the usual comical misunderstandings but rather in the clashing relationships between the ruling House of Lords and the magical fairy kingdom. The Lamplighters, in their signature unamplified style, bring all of their usual expertise to bear in the current production, with exquisite costumes, superior vocals and charismatic acting and choreography — but if the opening night performance is any indication, even all of that is not quite enough to bring the “fairy tale” to life.
Samuel Rabinowitz was the first to bring big smiles Friday in his joyful rendition of “Good Morrow, Good Mother,” proudly announcing that “I’m to be married today, today, yes I’m to be married today!” Rabinowitz was also hilarious in conversation with the fairies about his half-fairy nature, explaining that he is fairy “down to the waist,” while mortal down below. “My body can creep through a keyhole, but what’s the good of that when my legs are left kicking behind?”
(All of the major roles in the Lamplighters production are double cast, so the actors will be different in consecutive performances.)
Cary Ann Rosko was a crowd favorite Friday as the Queen of the Fairies. Rosko embodied the delicate sprite in every aspect, beautifully enhanced in her softly draped and colored ballet skirt and extra-tall, fairy-light hair. (Six different designers contributed to costume, hair and makeup design for “Iolanthe,” with final fairy costume adaptation by Christina Weiland.)
On Friday, Michele Schroeder played Iolanthe, the fairy sentenced to a life of servitude for her crime of marrying a mortal. Schroeder exuded grace and charm as the humble outcast. F. Lawrence Ewing also brightened the stage with terrific humor as The Lord Chancellor. Ewing used silly moves, made all the funnier in his thick and cumbersome robe and ridiculous wig, together with an expressive speaking and singing voice and some amazing facial expressions, to portray his character in that unmistakable, delightful and satirical Gilbert and Sullivan style. Ewing also seemed to awaken enthusiasm in his cohorts, livening the atmosphere whenever he appeared on the stage.
Among the multitude of fairies, three are prominently featured and offer a peek into the fairy nature. Stephanie Dietz, Katelyn Neumann and Heather Tinling succeeded in doing that Friday, demonstrating that fairies are blithe, gentle and, well, flighty. These three commanded the stage with exuberant personality and carefree energy.
In fact, all of the players did an excellent job Friday. It’s the story that tends to drag, offering few surprises and little interest between musical numbers.
There are characters in “Iolanthe” who are a joy to watch, and the story does offer a few entertaining surprises. The music, as can be expected in any Lamplighters performance, is lovely and well performed under the direction of conductor Baker Peeples. The colorful characters are well portrayed by capable actors, a few of whom liven the stage enough to awaken viewers between quieter stretches.
Go for the music and polish of the inimitable Lamplighters troupe and the familiar Gilbert and Sullivan tunes, and you won’t be disappointed.
If You Go
“Iolanthe” was performed one weekend only at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek and continues Aug. 10-11 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, then Aug. 16-18 at the Lam Research Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. The show concludes its run Aug. 24-25 at the Bankhead Theatre in Livermore. Tickets to the San Francisco performances are $20 to $53 and are available by calling 415-978-2787. Tickets for the Bankhead Theatre performances are $22 to $47 and are available by calling 925-373-6800. Tickets are also available online at lamplighters.org.
Elizabeth Warnimont is a freelance writer specializing in the performing arts. She is also a substitute teacher for the Benicia Unified School District.