THE INDEPENDENT • THURSDAY, AUGUST 15, 2013
Irresistible 'Iolanthe' Coming to Livermore By Susan Steinberg “Iolanthe” will be the best end-of-summer treat as Gilbert and Sullivan’s sassiest classiest show arrives at the Bankhead Theater for two performances on August 24 and 25. Presented by the international-award-winning San Francisco Lamplighters, this new production has been polished to musical and comical perfection by veteran director Barbara Heroux. From the lively overture to the rollicking finale, the show bubbles over with wonderful music, from the famous “patter songs” to lovely romantic ballads. Witty jabs at a ponderous and ineffective legislature provide humor that modern audiences also find wickedly funny. Describing mandatory party-line votes, a sagacious sentry observes that all politicians “if they’ve a brain and cerebellum too, they’ve got to leave that brain outside and vote just as their leaders tell ‘em to.” Laughter explodes. The hereditary nobility who form Britain’s House of Peers come in for special satire. Entering in a pompous parade of regal robes and crowns, heralded by a fanfare of trumpets, they proclaim their supposed superiority: “We are peers of highest station, paragons of legislation, pillars of the British nation.” But Gilbert wittily reveals their inadequacy, as an Earl exclaims, “I have the highest respect for brains – often wished I had some myself!” Deliciously silly is
the sight of entire proud House of Peers begging abjectly for the love of Phyllis, a pretty young country maiden. They scorn her lowly origin, but assure her that they have “birth and position that’s plenty, with blood and behavior for 20." An indignant Phyllis rejects their condescending proposal, asserting that “in lowly cot alone is virtue found.” Shocked, the lords protest, “Spurn not the noblyborn with love affected nor treat with virtuous scorn the well-connected. High rank involves no shame, we boast an equal claim, with him of humble name to be respected.” Here’s a topsy-turvy how-de-do indeed, in a world where the upper classes shunned lowly marital matches (as cheekily satirized in “HMS Pinafore”). Here, in an outrageous parody of British class distinction, it is the nobles who are forced to plead for the respect of the morally superior lower classes. What a laugh Victorian audiences must have had, and how funny modern audiences still find the idea in our age of “upward mobility.” Other clever Parodies abound, including the spoof of Wagner’s newly – popular “Ring Cycle," featuring Siegmund, a hero born of the god Wotan and a human woman, just as the G & S hero Strephon is the son of a human father and fairy mother. Siegmund’s son Siegfried has a noisy gaggle of aunts who ride
Photo above is of the Peers.
Cary Ann Rosko as the Fairy Queen (double cast with Sonia Gariaeff) and Rick Williams as the Lord Chancellor (double cast with F. Lawrence Ewing), photo by David Allen, Iolanthe 2013
about singing at the top of their lungs. Strephon also has a horde of aunts - all his mother’s sisters – a bevy of scampering singing fairies who look like teenagers because they are immortal. Of course this causes major problems when his fiancée Phyllis sees him kissing Iolanthe, his mother. She and the lords mock his guileless explanation exclaiming, “To find a mother younger than her son is very curious, and that’s a kind of mother that is usually spurious.” After a painful math calculation they declare, “Her age upon the date of his birth was minus eight, if she is seventeen and he is five and twenty.” This outrages the fairies and their offended Queen casts a spell that
forces the peers to gyrate wildly around the stage in a ludicrously awkward chorus-girl routine. Even worse, she decrees that Strephon, a simple shepherd, will be sent into Parliament with the magic power to command the votes of every political party. Great chaos ensues, since long speeches and delaying procedures (think Congressional filibusters) cannot block his proposals. As the fairies explain to the horrified lords, “It’s our fairy system – it shortens debates.” In light of our current legislative logjams, that’s a line which always sets listeners laughing. The fairies themselves are also curiously comical. In an age when Peter Pan was popular, and fairytale books showing dainty winged sprites graced every library, Gilbert dared to satirize the whole sappy (to him) notion of Fairyland. In a ravishing opening scene created by JeanFrancois Revon, the fairies flutter about beneath a towering growth of gigantic leaves and flowers, appearing petite and diminutive. It is a perfectly magical setting, with exquisite pastel costumes by the late great John Gilkerson, and flitty music reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. The idyllic effect is dispelled by Gilbert’s matter-of –fact lyrics, “Tripping hither, tripping thither, nobody knows why or wither . . . If you ask the special function of our neverceasing motion, we reply (continued on page 5)
THE INDEPENDENT • THURSDAY, AUGUST 15, 2013
Cajun Zydeco Festival Set at Ardenwood Historic Farm
IOLANTHE (continued from page 4) without compunction that we haven’t any notion.” Dainty, but ditsy! Romantic love itself is treated with sarcastic humor. When Strephon and Phyllis decide to wed quickly, before they change their minds, Phyllis naively asks if they should wed first and change their minds afterward, and Strephon responds, “Yes, that’s the usual course.” When Phyllis finally learns about Strephon’s fairy family she announces, “Whenever I see you kissing a very young lady, I shall know it’s an elderly relative.” A delighted Strephon replies, “Then we shall be very happy indeed.” Of course many references to Strephon’s “halffairyhood” bring uproarious laughter, like Phyllis’ cautious inquiry, “Which half?” Strephon describes the difficulty of having a fairy brain, while from the waist downward, “I’m a gibbering idiot.” Worst of all while his upper half is immortal, his lower half grows older every day, and one day must die, so “What’s to become of my upper half when I’ve buried my lower half?” The jokes and sly innuendos are irresistibly and innocently funny. Funniest of all are the undignified antics of the Lord Chancellor, supposedly the serious guardian of all the Wards of Court, including Phyllis. He complains petulantly that every day he gives away all these agreeable girls, with not a one for himself, (“Which is exasperating for a highly susceptible Chancellor.”) He has also fallen in love with Phyllis and faces a terrible
struggle trying to plead with himself to officially consent to his own marriage. In this stressful situation, he sings the amazing “Nightmare Song,” a tongue-twisting high speed “patter song” that is always a terrific show-stopper. Delivered by both consummate singing comedians, Rick Williams and Lawrence Ewing, this number alone is worth the price of admission. I guarantee it ! Just as all seems hopelessly muddled, a startling revelation ends everyone’s problems (of course, with the Fairy Queen as Dea Ex Machina). A joyous choral finale sends listeners out humming to greet the performers in the lobby, a 61-year Lamplighter tradition. Having personally enjoyed both casts, I would find it impossible to pick a favorite – the company is just that rich in superb talent. Given the opportunity, I’d see it over and over again, especially hearing the orchestra respond with such great sensitivity to Conductor Baker Peeples’ deft leadership. Supertitles enable theater-goers to catch every delicious quip, as does an expertly detailed program, complete with glossary. Don’t miss out on the fun; this show is a real delight for all ages. Reserve tickets for the Saturday evening performance, August 24, or the Sunday matinee on August 25 by contacting the Bankhead Theater at 925-373-6800 or www. bankheadtheater.org. The theater is located at 2400 First Street in downtown Livermore.
Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont will host the Annual Cajun Zydeco festival on Saturday, August 17. Bring family or friends to the festival for a day filled with the best Cajun/Zydeco music, dancing, delicious Cajun & Creole cuisine and other festival food favorites. Take a tour of the farm, visit the farm animals, shop specialty vendors and join in dance lessons.
The 17th annual festival features Terrance Simien and The Zydeco Experience, Sheryl Cormier, Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic, and opening the Festival - Mark St. Mary Louisiana Blues & Zydeco Band. Gates open at 10 a.m. Live music will play from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Ardenwood Farm is surrounded by fields of organic produce and farm animals. On site is the historic Pat-
Classy Cats Perform Jazz at the Pleasanton Library Enjoy a free concert of swinging jazz played by saxophonist Mark Russo and The Classy Cats. The concert will be performed at 2 p.m. on Sun., August 25 at the Pleasanton Library. The Classy Cats is a top group of professional musicians aiming to please. All the members have performed for wellknown Bay Area venues, which include Paul Masson, Mirassou Wineries, Monterey Jazz Festival, and Pebble Beach. This concert will be held in the library’s large meeting room and is absolutely free. Come early to find parking and save a seat. (Bring a sweater for our cold air conditioning.) For more information regarding the program, call the Pleasanton Library at 931-3400, ext. 4. The program is free and open to all. No registration required
terson House. Take the train from the entrance to the festival site. Bring a blanket, low-back lawn chair, sunblock, and hat. Low canopies welcome in the back or side areas (please be courteous and do not block the view of the stage). Alcohol is prohibited. Please purchase beverages inside the festival. Food will also be available for purchase. No pets are allowed. Proceeds benefit the Park Express Transportation Program for low-income schools and groups serving senior or disabled persons visiting the East Bay Regional Parks. Additional donations welcome. Contact the Regional Parks Foundation: (510) 544-2202. Ardenwood Historic Farm is located on Ardenwood Boulevard just north
of Highway 84 (Dumbarton Expressway) in Fremont. Directions: In Fremont, exit Highway 84 at Ardenwood/ Newark Boulevard. Go north on Ardenwood Boulevard. The entrance is just north of Highway 84 on the right. Advance tickets are $18 for adults, $3 for youth (ages 4-15 years). Advance tickets can be purchased through August 8 at 1-888-EBPARKS (888-327-2757) or online at EBParksOnline. org. Day of event tickets: $22 for adults, $5 youth (ages 4 ? 15 years). 3 years and under free. Free parking. Information can be obtained at 1-888-EBPARKS or www.ebparks.org. The Festival is presented by the East Bay Regional Park District