Excellent Performances Make Bryn Athyn’s PRINCESS IDA a “Must-See”!

by Robert Beizer

Laurie Horan is one of the many gifted singers appearing in PRINCESS IDA, being stage at Mitchell Performing Arts Center through May 22 by Bryn Athyn Community Theater. (Photos by Chara Odhner)

The origins of our Musical Theater go back to colonial times in America and can be traced all the way to the ancient Greeks and Romans. One of the most important creative teams in this entire history was that of librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan; commonly referred to as G & S, and their wonderful Operettas. This team offered Victorian England a view of the world at once serious, comic, ironic and filled with biting satire. They have been compared to Jonathan Swift, for his use of satire, in his novel, Gulliver’s Travels.

G & S have also given the world many memorable songs, and stock character types such as “the Modern Major-General” who sings in the “patter song” manner developed by them.

All of this leads me to the current production of PRINCESS IDA now appearing at the Mitchell Performing Arts Center on the campus of Bryn Athyn College.

This production by the Bryn Athyn Community Theater introduces us to one of the lesser known G & S operettas – but one very unique, even to them. The libretto is the only one of theirs, written entirely in Blank Verse. Which, if you remember your high school English class is un-rhymed Iambic Pentameter – the language of Shakespeare (among many others). This takes some getting the ear used to.

PRINCESS IDA tells the story of a girl, Princess Ida (Elise Genzlinger), daughter of King Gama (Kent Cooper) betrothed to Prince Hilarion (Landon Heinrichs) son of King Hildebrand (Stephen Cole) when she was just one year old.

Princess Ida has grown up and now heads an all-female University which is decidedly anti-male in its curriculum. She refuses to appear at the court of King Hildebrand on the appointed day for her marriage to Prince Hilarion to be announced.

King Hildebrand is incensed when King Gama arrives without the Princess, instead, with her three dolt brothers in tow (David Steen as Arac, Alec Robert Horan as Guron and Anders M. Smith as Scynthius).

Prince Hilarion decides to find out what is going on at that University, and takes his friends Cyril (Ben Cole) and Florian (Jasper McQueen) with him to find out. Where all manner of chaos ensues. The rest is best left for you to see for yourself.

The voices are generally excellent, although miked and the group uses a full pit orchestra which does full justice to the wonderful Sullivan score. At times it was hard to understand some of the spoken words from Princess Ida – but I think there were technical problems the evening I saw the show. 

All of the performances by the principals were excellent. Particular notice goes to Kent Cooper as King Gama whom I would love to see as Fagin in a production of the musical “Oliver” (he may have already played the part). Kudos to Stephen Cole as King Hildebrand and to Landon Heinrichs as Prince Hilarion – in only his second role on stage! On the female side Elise Genzlinger is a wonderful Princess Ida, and Laurie Horan gives us a humorous turn as Lady Blanche. Kudos also to Alison A. Cole as Lady Psyche and to Alayna Rakes as Melissa.

The costumes are wonderful and the set allows the very large cast to utilize the entire stage. The chorus superb and the choreography inventive. New or old to G & S: SEE THIS PRODUCTION before it closes!!

by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Directed by R. Scott Cooper
Musical Direction by Jennifer Cole
Choreography by Diana Jewell
May 13 – 22, 2011
Bryn Athyn Community Theater
Mitchell Performing Arts Center
Bryn Athyn College
800 Tomlinson Rd
Tickets: 215-938-PLAY

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