The Pittsburgh Savoyards have been keeping the tradition of opera alive in the ‘burgh for 78 years of “laughing song and merry dance”. Continuing their love of Gilbert and Sullivan’s work, the Savoyard’s production of Iolanthe lacks the conviction to fully embody their motto.
The tale of Iolanthe is complicated full of characters whose motives mainly dealing with love begin to intertwine, this often makes it hard to determine who we are supposed to care the most about. Is it Iolanthe, the fairy back from banishment after marrying a mortal? Or her half fairy (down to the waist) son, Strephon, who seeks to wed shepherdess, Phyllis? Possibly, the focus is around Phyllis’ ward, The Lord Chancellor of England and his fellow peers who also vie for her love.
A cause for this problem could be the lack of command in the direction. Much of the stage’s space during full company numbers felt imbalanced leaving the ensemble to tackle their vocals and insecure choreography in a haphazard manner. The audience relied on the ensemble to understand the emotions of song when focus was less on the individual words but rather absorbing the floral score beautifully conducted by Guy Russo. However, incongruities did appear when specific cast members took an over exaggerated, slapstick approach in emoting when others were much more subdued in their portrayal taking away from a cohesive bond among them.
The strengths of the production shone through during Act II developing the many lead character’s romantic conflicts. The shaky, mortal legs of Mark Harris’ Strephon found their bearing, reflecting his newfound openness with Phyllis (Mia Bonnewell). With their love flourishing as well as their voices during “If We’re Weak Enough to Tarry”, Harris and Bonnewell made a suitable couple to follow. The quarreling Earls, Zachary Luchetti and John Teresi found rejuvenation in their sometimes tired shtick when given the time for their quick-paced numbers to achieve their buoyancy. And, Jezebele Zbozny-DelPercio with all of her Tinkerbell qualities as Iolanthe showed more of her capabilities after she faced her possible death after revealing to the Lord Chancellor, Strephon is their son. These stakes were crucial in understanding why Zbonzy-DelPercio was truly the deserving title character. Love took prominence when fairy law is changed, and everyone is given a happy ending.
Iolanthe has a hard time reaching its full potential. During intermission and after the show, audience members couldn’t stop adding their own raves about the production and exploring the plot. Gilbert and Sullivan certainly have a niche following, and even though the Pittsburgh Savoyard’s would struggle to delight a mainstream audience, it gives enough charm to entertain their devout followers.
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Savoyards for complimentary press tickets.Iolanthe runs at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall until October 18th. For tickets and more information check out their website.
Performance Date: Friday, October 9, 2015