Trip to fairyland


By Gilbert and Sullivan
Adapted, directed, and choreographed by Judith Jarosz
Musical direction by Matt Castle
Theater Ten Ten
1010 Park Ave. (between 84th and 85th Sts.; 212/288-3246, ext. 3)
Equity showcase (closes May 30)
Review by Seth Bisen-Hersh

Iolanthe is a timeless, classic Gilbert and Sullivan operetta about fairies who fall in love with humans. Theatre Ten Ten presented a cleverly abridged revival with an intimate ensemble of 11. The silliness and splendor of the operetta shine in this brilliant production with an extraordinary cast and creatively charming designs.

The plot of Iolanthe follows the title character's son's tryst with a young ward. Iolanthe has been exiled from the fairy world for marrying a mortal. In lieu of the usual death sentence, she has instead been exiled as long as her husband thinks she is dead and knows not that she has born him a son. Twenty-five years after this banishment, the fairies beg the Queen to allow her to return. The Queen acquiesces.

Iolanthe returns and presents her son, Strephon, who is half-fairy and half-human. He has fallen in love with the fair Phyllis; however, she is under the care of the domineering Lord Chancellor, who refuses to let her marry a shepherd. In fact, it soon turns out he himself, and his entire court, are smitten with her. Many twists and turns ensue, as the characters take part in witty songs and dances explaining their conundrums and feelings.

This production reduced a 50-person and at least three-hour show to a tight two hours and an 11-person ensemble. It was done so seamlessly that those unfamiliar with the operetta would no doubt feel it was always written thus. Every character retains his own personality while getting to sing many solos. The arrangements worked perfectly for the small, competent cast, who delivered the notes precisely.

The cast had no weak link. All 11 performers were vibrantly vivacious, delivering exciting and fresh performances. They were evincing joyful fun, which contagiously infected the audience. The standouts, in a cast that all stood out, included the following: as Strephon, Frederick Hamilton was melodramatically passionate, committing fervently to every action and emotion. Greg Horton's show-stopping delivery of Lord Chancellor's patter song was quite impressive, breathtaking, and thoroughly entertaining. Cristiane Young's presence as the Fairy Queen was unmistakably larger than life. Finally, Jacquelyn Baker's voice soared intensely as Iolanthe.

All this great talent was reined in by director and choreographer Judith Jarosz. She also gets the credit for adapting the operetta for this intimate group. There was never a moment wasted. Every beat had a specific movement -- the choreographed cadences were a highlight. The choreography in general was campy without ever becoming cheesy, silly without ever becoming stupid, and genuinely exhilarating and captivating. The pace, energy, and staging were all handled superbly. There was never a dull moment, and the show felt ephemeral even though it lasted two hours.

Technically, the show was innovative. The audience got to sit on stage -- a mini-staging area was created among the seating. This intimate setting helped create the intimate production. Caitlin McCleery's set produced a fairylike forest. George Gountas's lighting design was sublimely in tune and in sync with the music. There were also some cool effects used to create the ambience in such a small playing area. Finally, Joanne Haas's costumes were colorful and playful.

Theater Ten Ten's production of Iolanthe was splendidly and joyously conceived, designed, and performed. There was not one element of the show that was not up to the highest standards of what good theatre is about. This production could be enjoyed by both Gilbert and Sullivan freaks as well as virgins.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Performing: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2004 Seth Bisen-Hersh