Sprinkled with Fairy Dust: The Gilbert & Sullivan Society Performs IOLANTHE

by Jessica Graae

Julie May as Fairy Queen and Laura Zahn as Iolanthe in the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Chester County's production of IOLANTHE, running in West Chester PA through November 21.

IOLANTHE is considered one of the classic Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.  The light-hearted story touches on themes of class, identity and art in society.  We never tire of these concepts, included in almost every G&S operetta: the potential for comedy is limitless. The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Chester County’s production is lively and colorful, with some fine singing and acting. 

The jewel hues of Jenna Wolf’s fairy costumes work beautifully with stage director Cynthia du Pont Tobias’s magical set.  Tobias’s second act set, a stunning view of Westminster, is so extraordinary that it got a rousing applause.   Musical director Florrie Marks does a great job conducting her nimble orchestra.  The musical numbers are well prepared and the chorus has flawless diction.  One catches almost every bit of W.S. Gilbert’s witty libretto, except for the occasional word uttered upstage. 

That’s a good thing, because the show is overflowing with laugh lines.  Strephon, played by the honey-voiced Derek Hess, sets the tone when he comments to Phyllis (the lovely Elizabeth Zell): “And today we’re to be made happy for ever.” She replies, with just the right amount of hesitation, “Well, we’re to be married.”   The two are nicely paired in the duets: None shall part us from each other and If we’re weak enough to tarry.  Clearly, this is some of the best music Arthur Sullivan ever wrote for soprano and tenor – on a par with the duets from HMS Pinafore and The Mikado. 

Gabriel Nathan is an excellent Lord Chancellor.  He is hilarious in When I went to the bar as a very young man, commenting repeatedly, “Said I to myself, said I”.  This stock character, which can also be found in Trial by Jury, (see www.gsschesco.org for details on their upcoming production) is ever-present in G&S operetta.  He’s a bumbling, pompous and “educated” character who stops the action just to tell his own story. 

 As the Queen of Fairies, Julie May commands the stage, singing beautifully.  Jenna Wolf (Celia), Rebecca Young (Leila) and Leslie Stanford (Fleta) make convincing fairies, weaving their sweetness into the production.  Fred Dittmann loans his fine voice to the role of Lord Mountararat, projecting strongly and confidently.  Also singing well is Daniel Williams as Lord Tolloller.  Bob Binkley makes a perfect Private Willis, playing him as a loveable buffoon. 

Laura Zahn’s warm, voluptuous soprano – clearly destined for Puccini and Verdi – shines in My lord, a suppliant at your feet.  As the youthful fairy mother of Strephon, she squeezes every expressive drop out of the music.    

There is nothing “amateur” about this production, except the actors are all volunteers.  The show is professional, entertaining and all the performers hit their mark!

Music by Arthur Sullivan
Libretto by W. S. Gilbert
November 18 – 21, 2010
Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Chester County
Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall
Philips Mem. Bldg
S. High Street & University Avenue
West Chester University
West Chester PA

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