Review: Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’ by The Lamplighters (*****)

The fairies have bite, along with delight, in Lamplighers’ typically fabulous production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Iolanthe.” Photo Credit: Lucas Buxman.

by Charles Kruger

Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

Go see, “Iolanthe” — from our dark COVID exile we are summoned! Come to the call! Iolanthe! Iolanthe!

If you are at all like me, you had no trouble matching the name, “Iolanthe,” to the melodic leitmotif of said fairy that is one of the charming musical details of Gilbert & Sullivan’s greatest masterpiece.

Of all the light operas produced by those Victorian geniuses of the musical theatre, Iolanthe has the wittiest rhymes, the most pointed satire, and the most glorious melodic content. It soars.

The music is inarguably Sullivan’s best: the choruses rival those of Grand Opera, the melodies could charm the snakes out of the Amazon, and the sophisticated nods to musical culture (Sullivan appreciated Wagner and Mendelssohn and lets us know it) are an added treat for cogniscenti.

Of all Sullivan’s comic creations, the dourly satirical Lord Chamberlain (“the law is the true embodiment of everything that’s excellent/it has no kind of fault or flaw/and I, my friends, embody the law”) is gifted with the apex of Gilbert’s art in the hilariously surreal “Nightmare”” patter song.

And, as usual, our Lamplighters (celebrating their 70th season this year!) are up to the task. They offer their typical and insightful contemporary take on Victoriana, without ever compromising the dry humor that is the hallmark of the genre. They are among the finest proponents of topsy turvy ever to shine in the universe of Gilbert & Sullivan revivals.

As it shoud be, the brightest stars of this production are the two choruses of Peers and Faries. Each individual chorus member has created a full and distinct character, and yet, they all move and clown as one body.

The choral singing is thrilling, under the baton of distinguished Maestro David Drummond, who has coached the company to a pitch of perfection, and the orchestra, too. “Iolanthe” is Sullivan’s most accomplished score, and Drummond skillfuly gives it the detailed attention it deserves.

The stage direction (and, I presume, the choreography) by Nicholas Alliaga Garcia is always well-balanced and interesting. The design elements are superb. The transition from fairy land to a London that has been invaded by angry fairies determined to disrupt Parliament is funny, unexpected, and altogether grand.

This is no half-measured rendition of “Iolanthe”.

These are fairies down to their feet! Do manage to trip your way to Livermore for the final performance. You won’t be disappointed.

“Iolanthe” has one remaining matinee performance, at the Bankhead Theatre in Livermore. For further information, click here.


Rating: ***** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

“Iolanthe” by Gilbert & Sullivan. Produced by Lamlighters Musical Theatre. Director: Nicolas A. Garcia. Music Director/Conductor: David Drummond. Costume Designer: John C. Gilkerson with Christina Weiland and Miriam R. Lewis. Lighting Designer: Brittany Mellerson. Wigs and Hair Designer: Arie Singer. Makeup Designer: David Kirby. Set Designer: Jean-Fançois Revon.


Fairy Queen: Cory Anne Rosko. Lord Chancellor: Joshua Hughes. Strephon: Liam Daley. Phyllis: Maria Lucia Caycedo. Lord Mountararat: Michael Grammer. Lord Tolloller: Eric Mellum. Pvt. Willis: Julio Ferrari. Iolanthe: Monica Rose Slater. Celia: Rose Waldman. LEila: Caroline Flett. Fleta: Nicole Lopez-Hagari.

Chorus of Dukes, Marquises, Earls, Viscounts, Barons, and Fairies:

Jeffrey Beaudoin, Natalie Buck-Bauer, Audrey Carstensen, Nika Cassaro, Sophie Michelle Clarke, Gabriela Crolla, Katherine Feller, Christopher Focht, Andrew Green, Buck Greenwald, Jennifer Kiernan, Camille Lake, Bridget Maguire-Colton, Robert Matteucci, Murali M eyer, Alan Roberts, Samuel Ethan Rubin, Sarah Sims, Brianna Stutzman, Daniel Yelen, Luana Zapata.

Supernumeraries: Daniel Z apata Dutra, Nicolas A. Garcia, Douglas Kadlecek, Chase Kupperberg, Phil Lowery, Arie Singer.


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