By Claire DeMarco
Iolanthe (Savannah Simeone) is a fairy who disobeyed fairyland law by falling in love with a mortal. This was an act absolutely forbidden! A big no, no! She was banished for her indiscretion.
Iolanthe had a son Strephon (Andrew Mours) and more than 20 years later, history repeats itself. Strephon is half fairy, half human. He is captivated and falls in love with mortal Phyllis (Katie Manukyan). Like mother, like son. Phyllis loves Strephon. The passage of time has not changed the minds or relaxed the thinking of those in charge. In fact, a law was passed making any matches between mortals and fairies illegal. Strephon doesn’t face banishment like his mother, but rather death.
Strephon’s situation is additionally more tenuous than Iolanthe’s since his love has a number of mortals also interested in winning her affection. Since Phyllis is a ward of the state, the Lord Chancellor (Logan Newman) has a lot to say about her future as do Thomas, Earl of Tolloller (Paul Yeater) and George, Earl of Mountararat (Sean Lenhart). They all want Phyllis themselves!
Queen of the Fairies (Sarah Austin) is determined to fight this law.
What happens to Phyllis and Strephon. Do they stay together? Does Fairyland win the day or does Lord Chancellor and his cohorts?
Manukyan is charming and gullible as a young girl in love. As a ward of the state and underage, she confronts roadblocks to her marriage. She is intimidated and accepting of a future she has no control over. Manukyan develops her character into a strong, determined woman in charge of her fate.
As a young actor Simeone is convincing as Strephon’s mother, banished from Fairyland and not accepted in the mortal world. She portrays a natural maturity in the role and her singing voice is exceptional.
Mours portrays his character as a strong man in love, determined to marry his sweetheart. He also shows his insecurity as he ponders what happens to his immortal half fairy, half mortal side when he dies. “What’s to become of my other half when I’m buried?”
Austin holds court over the fairies. She is firm when needed but deliciously funny as she laments her own love situation in a beautiful voice with “Oh, Foolish Fay”. She commands respect but has a comic side seen through strong facial expressions.
Newman is delightful as the Lord Chancellor. Totally believable as an upper-class Englishman, his movements are controlled. His submission to movement is seen through his ever-waving white handkerchief. Newman transitions into a more energetic human with comedic gymnastics as he sings of “Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest”.
Yeater and Lenhart shine as they join the Lord Chancellor in an amusing song and dance routine of “If You Go In.”
William Carter (Grenadier Guardsman) commands attention as he continues sentry duty with a clever delivery of “When All Night Long a Chap Remains.”
So how does a production whose theme is banishment, potential death, overbearing English peers and a group of fairies successfully become a comic opera? Surprisingly, it’s rather easy when you have a large cast of talented vocalists and actors.
Note: A name from the 21st century popped up during the Queen of the Fairies’ song “Oh, Foolish Fay.” Jake Gyllenhaal? How did that happen and why? The original lyrics have the name as Captain Shaw. Actor Savannah Simeone (Iolanthe) indicated that “nobody knows who Shaw was and Jake’s name was adapted in his place.” It certainly heightens the comedic effect.
Note: Depending on the performance date, many of the actors’ roles are performed by other members of the cast.
Kudos to the Pittsburgh Savoyards Orchestra and Conductor Guy Russo.
Excellent direction by Stage Director Michael McFaden.
“Iolanthe” is a production of Pittsburgh Savoyards and is presented at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie, PA. Performances run from October 13th through October 22. For more information, click here.