Savoyards take amusing and creative detour with revamped ‘Iolanthe’

Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri

You have three more opportunities as of this writing, to see the Summer Savoyards’ funny, updated and slightly twisted take on the Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe.

In Iolanthe: Re-Vamped, the fairies of the original operetta are vampires, hence the title. I was fortunate to have seen the opening night performance, and it was really fun. The musicians in the orchestra were right on key under the direction of Kimberly (Bemis) Tyler.

Under the stage direction of Kate Murray, who never fails as a director to think outside the box, Iolanthe: Re-Vamped is a treat. In this case, that “box” is a coffin, from which Iolanthe (Jana Kucera),  a vampire banished  for marrying a mortal, emerges after  two dozen-plus years when pardoned for her crime by the Vampire Queen. (It’s the same story line as the original, just substituting “vampire” for “fairy.”)

Strephon (John Carroll), the son Iolanthe bore after her ill-conceived liaison with a human, is now older than she, while she has not aged at all in her 25-year banishment. She is immortal, after all. Many of the classic G&S plot confusions hinge on the fact that Strephon’s tender mother-son moments with Iolanthe can be misconstrued as hanky-panky with a teenage girl.

Much has already been written about this production in the local news and on social media, so without further ado, here are my impressions:

Die-hard Gilbert and Sullivan audiences are going to have to take a few minutes to adjust their expectations before they will be able to accept what Producer David Sissenstein, Director Murray, Concept Designer David R. Spiro and Tech Director Mary E. Donnelly have accomplished here with their talented colleagues in the cast and crew.

James A. Ulrich’s set designs, Joannie Anderson’s costumes and Kathy Starks’ choreography (and her turn as the slightly disturbing armor-wearing Queen) all contribute toward the direction this production bravely ventures.

Although the show is set in the present, each vampire woman represents a different time period, presumably their era of origin.. You’ve got your ’50s gal, your Goth girl, your nun, etc. Come for the visuals, but stay for the voices, particularly Kucera and Jennifer Robble’s as Phyllis (the only mortal woman), who is engaged to Iolanthe’s half-vampire son. Both sing and enunciate with clarity and confidence.

There were several solid performances by the men, all members of Parliament (except Strephon), particularly Wm. Clark Snyder as the Lord Chancellor, funny in his foot pajamas, and Cole Tornberg and Craig Hawkins as two lords vying for Phyllis’s hand after she eschews her demi-vampire boyfriend.

The chorus of vampire ladies and mortal gentlemen blend their voices for some very lovely ensemble pieces, and as with every Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, which one either loves or doesn’t, the ending is satisfying if not entirely neat.

Missy Harris and Danel Vaglica are fittingly creepy but cute and adorable, too, as Leila and Celia, the main ladies in the vampire coven, and Bob Tyler is Private Willis.

Rounding out the vampire coven are Katie Bowers, Maria Carroll, Rosie Haggerty, Brianna Hawkins, Kristen McPeak, Sharilyn Mitchell, Molly Murray, Jackie Sissenstein, Kelly Smith, Anderson and Greta Volkova. The peers are Michael Jennings, Franklin Krongold, Gary Mars, Tyler Poole, Derek Potts, David Putrino, Tim Roossien and Sissenstein.

IF YOU GO: Iolanthe: Re-Vamped will be performed at 8 p.m. today and Saturday (July 25 and 26) and at 2 p.m. Sunday (July 27) in the spacious, acoustically perfect Chamber Hall of the Anderson Center at Binghamton University. Tickets are available from noon to 5 p.m. today in the Fine Arts Building box office (777-4237) and an hour before curtain at the door: general, $20; students and seniors (55 and over), $18). Come in supernatural outfit (fairy, vampire, zombie) on Saturday, and you pay $15 and are eligible for prizes in a costume contest.

 

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1 Response to "Savoyards take amusing and creative detour with revamped ‘Iolanthe’"

  1. Kudos to the pit orchestra, for a spirited performance of some really difficult music that added so much to the show. As always, these folks are unsung heroes, who deserve to be in the spotlight!

    Such a small audience Sunday, though — what a shame so many people missed this hilarious production!

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