Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It’s a mod mod “Iolanthe” at Mock’s Crest

Dru Rutledge as Celia, John Vergin as The Lord Chancellor, Audrey Sackett as Phyllis, and Joshua Randall as Strephon
Placing Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe” in the mod London of the 1960s is a brilliant stroke in the current Mock’s Crest Production at the University of Portland. The women (Fairies actually) cavort about in go-go boots, mini-skirts, and polka-dotted umbrellas – all of which are splashed with a Peter Max-like color scheme (“Yellow Submarine” anyone?). The men (peers in the House of Lords) in charcoal grey suits and black bowlers maintain a stiff upper lip. They all interact in a colorful London-street-scene backdrop that niftily converts to the red-cushioned benches of Parliament. To top it off, in the performance that I saw on Sunday afternoon (June 15) all of the evocative costumes (designed by Gregory Pulver) and scenery (designed by Larry Larsen) was supported by an outstanding cast of principals with terrific stage direction by Kristine McIntyre, making this the strongest and best balanced Mock’s Crest production that I’ve seen in several years.

Since “Iolanthe” is a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, its storyline is amusing, farfetched, and complex. Iolanthe (Beth Madsen Bradford) is a fairy who has been banished from the fairy realm for the past 25 years because she deigned to marry a mortal (fairies are immortal and don’t age – well, they age for a little bit, let’s say 21, and then stop). Iolanthe’s fairy sisters want Iolante back because she writes all of their songs and dances, and they need some new ones, and they miss her anyway. The Fairy Queen (Alexis Hamilton) relents and summons Iolanthe to appear and pardon’s her. Iolanthe reveals that she has a son, Strephon, who is half fairy (down to his waist), but his legs are mortal. Strephon (Joshua Randall) meets the fairies and tells them that he is in love with the beautiful Phyllis (Audrey Sackett), but she is the ward of The Lord Chancellor (John Vergin), and he wants to marry her himself. Actually, several members of the House of Lords want marry Phyllis. In particular, the Earl of Mountararat (Robert Winstead) and Earl Tolloller (Brian Tierney) have upped the ante in their quest. They spy Strephon in a tender embrace with his mother and point out it out Phyllis. None of them believe that Iolanthe is Strephon’s mother since she looks so young. Phyllis rejects Strephon; so he calls on the fairies to help him. The Queen Fairy concocts a magical spell that makes him a Member of Parliament with the ability to pass any bill he proposes.

Things get more twisted and sillier from this point onward, but that's part of the fun of “Iolanthe.” Bradford sang the title role winningly. The fetching singing and acting of Audrey Sackett created a convincing Phyllis. She was well-matched by Randall who created an ardent Strephon. John Vergin garnered plenty of laughs as The Lord Chancellor, and he delivered a complicated patter song at full speed, which was impressive yet very hard to follow past the first stanza. Winstead created a delightfully incompetent yet lovable Earl of Mountararat and Tierney was his equal as Earl Tolloller.

Hamilton’s ability to totally embody the persona of the Queen of the Fairies was totally hilarious. She combined an over-the-top British accent with a vocal prowess that goes into a few basements. Most singers cannot produce much of a tone in the lower regions of their voice, but Hamilton was just fantastic. One of her best lines came with the words “O shame upon you,” which seemed to come from the depths of earth.

Erik Hundtoft made the most of his brief, yet very amusing role as Mr. Willis. Dru Rutledge, Valery Saul, and Taylor Kendig were enjoyable as Iolanthe’s fairy sisters. Director McIntyre and choreographer Anne Egan had them doing the twist, the swim, and the mash potato as part of their dance numbers.

The chamber orchestra was well-paced by conductor Tracey Edson, and the chorus sang and acted with aplomb. The final scene included surprisingly inventive costume changes some flashy use of props that fit the show perfectly.

Iolanthe continues this weekend and the next with the final show on June 29th. For more information, check the Mock’s Crest web site.

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