Mercer Opera delights with ‘Iolanthe’

If you are anything like me, you are probably the kind of person who likes opera in theory but gets somewhat bored in the theatre. I went to see “Don Giovanni” not too long ago and nearly fell asleep.
That being said, I was absolutely delighted with Mercer Opera’s latest performance. An opera for those who might need some convincing to give an opera a chance, Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe” is light, fun, frivolous and hilarious.
The plot of “Iolanthe” sounds something like a rehash of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a satirical twist. Fairies fall in love with humans and completely turn Parliament upside-down (by actually making it run properly, for a change), and the hapless half-fairy hero chases after his lover, who has spurned him after catching him with an attractive young woman (who happens to be his mother). The humor abounds, particularly when played up by an absolutely shameless and enthusiastic cast.
The show was somewhat rough around the edges. Certain moments in the choreography were out of synch, particularly when the lords of the Court of Chancery come out to dance. Most of the acting was over the top and a little ridiculous. This became considerably more excusable when the satire had been established and made the show considerably funnier. Patrick Hamilton and Ryan Kirkconnell, among other people, are absolute hams.
Of course, the real strength in the music school lies in its vocals and in its orchestra. All of the cast members delivered strong performances when it came to singing, even the bit solos from unnamed fairies or lords. Adrienne Leggett (Phyllis) has a lovely voice that deftly scaled the high notes, and Patrick Hamilton’s (Strephon) baritone balanced Leggett’s higher tones well. I was unable to attend the performance in which Katie Trotter played Phyllis, but I’ve been told she did a lovely job. Lizamar Nieves had a throaty, heartfelt voice that carried a more mellow, calming tune for the audience well-befitting a mother. And the orchestra was absolutely gorgeous.
My favorite surprise from this play was the discovery of McKinley Starks, who played the Lord Chancellor. Excellent in both acting and singing, this sophomore transfer from Shorter has already proven himself to be an invaluable addition to Mercer’s music school. Danielle Rosborough was also brilliant as an actress and singer as the Queen of the Fairies.
Adding another layer to the political satire was the insertion of modern political references. The phrases “superpac,” “fiscal cliff” and “Parliamentary U-Haul” were dropped in the midst of the script and took the audience by surprise and cracked up the whole house. The biggest laugh probably came when the fairies, in the middle of a musical number, broke into an ode to Channing Tatum.
The set was fairly minimalist when compared to the detailed construction involved in Mercer Players performances. While not particularly impressive, it was charming and functional.
The costumes, however, were lovely. Though the costumes of the lords were simple—just robes in varying colors—the fairies personified frivolity. Whoever did makeup for the fairies did a good job; while sometimes a little overpowering, in most cases the color and the sparkles made for cute and playful additions to the costuming.