Welcome to Fairyland - The Pittsburgh Savoyards Stage an Enchanting Iolanthe or The Peer and the Peri
Peter Pan has one, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a slew and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, as staged by the Pittsburgh Savoyards, has at least ten - before I stopped counting. Fairies, that is.
Just after the opening overture, performed by the 30-plus orchestra, possibly as best as I ever heard it under the baton of Guy Russo, a bevy of maiden fairies dressed in pastel gossamer fairy garb with wings, frolicked across the stage gleefully singing in full-voiced and stunning harmony ”Tripping hither, tripping thither.”
There was little to no tripping, however, as they danced nimbly to the spirited song, then segued into expressing their discomfort at the loss of Iolanthe (Savannah Simeone), the one fairy who brought such happy song and spirit to their fairy circle.
For such a blissful group there were some draconian laws that govern their behavior, namely, if one were to marry a mortal, they should be put to death. Alas, poor Iolanthe.
Due to the Fairy Queen’s (Sarah Austin) mercy and Iolanthe’s good standing, the disobedient peri was exiled to a reedy swamp where she was to never see her husband again.
Soon we and the community of fairies are introduced to her son, the shepherd Strephon (Andrew Mours), who was half fairy from the waist up, half mortal from the waist down. He’s in love with Phyllis, a shepherdess maid and ward to the Lord Chancellor.
Due to Phyllis’ exceptional comeliness, the chancellor and the entire body of English peers want to marry her, much to the chagrin of both Phyllis and the shepherd she loves.
The narrative of the story line is pure Gilbert and Sullivan silliness and frivolity that seems to have an ageless charm. There’s also a more serious tone in that Gilbert takes the occasion to roast the royals, satirizing them to the point of caricature, but in a delightfully teasing one.
Throughout the performance, the choral works reign supreme, but there are solo and duet highlights as well, starting with Mours and Manukyan’s (as Strephon and Phyllis) ballad, “None shall part us from each other.” Then there’s the Lord Chancellor’s (Logan Newman) patter songs “Nightmare Song” and “When I went to the bar as a very young man” and “Oh, foolish fey,” sung by the Fairy Queen (Austin) and Peris.
Two other standout characters, besides the pompously comic Lord Chancellor (Newman) are Paul Yeater as Earl of Tolloller and Sean Lenhart as Earl of Mountararat, who not only friskily and playfully compete for the hand of Phyllis, but who also have some of the evening’s best singing voices and comic talent.
For pure rascally roguery, Newman is a delight every time he’s on stage. As the title character, Savannah Simeone, is sincere, maidenly and ebullient, while Manukyan as Phyllis is a nice balance of pastoral innocence and a wry sense of street smarts.
William Carter plays a youthful, bumpkin-ish Private Willis with exceptional candor that come through in his solo “When all night long a chap remains.”
In supporting roles, Tiffany Meyers (Celia), Katie Kirby (Leila) and Chelsie Clydesdale (Fleta) play fairies so light-spirited you expect them to fly off the stage at any minute. The youthful, Veera Sinha, is self-confident and self-assured as the Fairy Queen’s attendant.
Most impressive is the work of director Michael McFaden, who adds so many clever touches to the staging they’re too many to mention. I will say his motif of having the black-suited lords use their black umbrellas in a cleverly choreographed routine was a surprise element that got a rousing cheer from the audience.
His design for the song and dance construct for the Lord Chancellor, Tolloller and Mountararet which made use of a trampoline hidden inside a cushion, was a creative bon bon that turned a commonplace song into a visual extravaganza. And wait till you see whose photo the Fairy Queen falls in love with. The result is hilarious.
Costumer Robin Kornides lights up the stage with her appropriately colorful costumes and Dance Captain, Chelsie Clydesdale, and choreography assistant, Caitlin Kapoor, had the cast moving over the stage with the grace and breeziness of a summer zephyr. I especially enjoyed their inclusion of the Can Can finale at the end of one of the musical numbers.
This iolanthe has wings. Fly along with it with the Pittsburgh Savoyards now through October 22.
Iolanthe is at the Carnegie Library and Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Avenue in Carnegie. Both in-person and live stream tickets are available. A complimentary shuttle will take patrons to and from the parking lot at East Man and Pine Streets.
Note: Several of the roles are double cast, so the actors mentioned in this review may not appear in alternate performances. For the convenience of the audience, super titles of the lyrics (and dialogue on some select dates) are projected above the stage. For tickets, go to www.pittsburghsavoyards.org.