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2001:No Tribble at All
2002: They Might be Giants
2003: Flying for Me
2004: Clam Dip
2005: A Taste of Freedom
2006: Door to Door
2007: Living with the Clean Queen
2008: It's the Economy, Stopid
IN MY OPINION
The Scene Books Read in 2008
"The Black Echo"
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A "NOT A REVIEW' REVIEW
2 February 2009
One of the great things about going to a show that I don't have to review is that I don't have to come home and stay up until the wee small hours writing a review. (Duhhh) But one of the bad things about going to a show that I don't have to review is that if it's really good, I want to write a review, and have nowhere to publish it.
Except my journal. Heh heh heh. I knew there was a reason I kept this thing going.
So this is a "not a review" review of the production of Iolanthe that we saw at The Lamplighters tonight. It's a "not a review" review because I don't have to do the standard stuff. I can review our dinner, the printed program, the art show beforehand, and chatting with folks in the orchestra pit before the show. Stuff I wouldn't normally put in a review, of course.
Iolanthe is my all time favorite Gilbert & Sullivan show, with Mikado coming in a close second. I loved my friend Gilbert's performance as the Lord Chancellor. Gilbert did all the patter roles before he finally retired to the orchestra pit and finished out his life conducting the orchestra and being the musical director for the company. But his Lord Chancellor was one of my three favorites, KoKo in Mikado and Jack Point in Yeomen of the Guard the other two. So I'm always very critical of those three shows and those three roles and always sad when the actor doing them doesn't measure up (not the case tonight).
We got to Walnut Creek early and stopped at a Hubcaps diner across from the theatre for dinner. I had what was possibly one of the best hamburgers I'd had in a long time -- the Diablo, which was cooked to order (medium rare), with swiss cheese, mushrooms, and "onion straws" (thin fried onions) on it. Really, really good.
We were early for the show and so we stopped at the Bedford Gallery (which is part of the Lesher Center for the Arts, where the theatre is) to see their exhibit of "Shining Light," described as "sculptures blazing with light." It was interesting, especially the thing that looked like a pig, rocked back and forth, and had a washing machine agitator with water sloshing around in the side of it. I'm sure it was high art. I didn't get it.
Before the show started, we wandered down to the stage to peek in the deep, deep orchestra pit to see who was there and had a little chat with our friends Diana Dorman and Kathy Conner. Diana, who is the orchestra contractor and company music librarian, gave Jeri clarinet lessons for a brief time a bazillion years ago. We've been friends a long time. Kathy has also been in the orchestra since forever and is always pleased when I put her name in my journal...so let's see if she finds it this time.
The show was directed by Jane Hammett who was part of one of my best Lamplighters experience, the production of Something's Afoot, wherein I actually got to ring a doorbell several times during the overture -- the one time I "played" in the orchestra. I always loved Jane on stage in the years when she performed, but she left and went on to do a little thing called Phantom of the Opera, with which she toured the country for several years in the role of Carlotta. But she has been back for several years and now directs for The Lamplighters, among other things. This was an outstanding production.
I was a little surprised, and maybe disappointed, that the program gives away a key plot point, that being that the fairy Iolanthe and the Lord Chancellor had been married and he now thinks her dead and doesn't know that he fathered a son. The audience doesn't learn this until about halfway through Act 1 and I was surprised to see it mentioned in the plot summary. It is not something I would have mentioned in a real review, believing that there is always someone who has not seen the show before and they deserve to be surprised.
Iolanthe is fun because it pokes fun at the government, and has all these brainless British peers marching around the stage, posturing. Back in the 60s they did it like a close order drill, ending with all of the peers stretched across the stage and opening their capes to reveal a rainbow of color in the lining. This became known as the "peacock Iolanthe." I did miss that kind of choreography, I have to admit, but the peers are always fun to watch, however they are choreographed.
Lawrence Ewing, whom I have watched start in the chorus and then move into lead roles, now becoming the company's leading patterman, made the Lord Chancellor his own. As I told him after the show, what I've loved about his performances over the years is that he respects the G&S characters and stays true to them, but always manages to add something of his own that makes it different from what you've seen dozens of others do before. I loved how he got the pathos of the character and didn't just make him a dirty old man who has the hots for one of his wards.
I saw echoes of Jane's performances in the performance of Sharon Rietkerk as Phyllis, the aforementioned ward. Jane said others had made the same comment. She had a lovely voice, reminiscent of Jane's and there was something about her appearance and body movement that just reminded me of Jane--which is a good thing. I realized, with a smile, that I was also including the blonde hair. Jane was a blonde during Something's Afoot but was thrilled when she could stop bleaching it and let it go back to its normal brown!
The guy playing Strephon, who is half a fairy, being the child of Iolanthe and the Lord Chancellor, was the weakest in the cast. (Phyllis' line, "Which half...?" always brings down the house and Rietkerk milked it for all it was worth.) He was OK, but his performance lacked oomph and his voice could have projected better. It's always difficult to get really good tenors who can both sing well enough to do Gilbert & Sullivan and act well and so this is merely carrying on a longstanding tradition. When you get a really good tenor who can also act well, it's a blessing and fortunately The Lamplighters has had several throughout its 57 year history, but perhaps more not-so-good than outstanding. He wasn't bad, he was just...forgettable.
Likewise the Fairy Queen was OK, but nothing to write home about. Her delivery, and that of the fairy who answers her, lost one of the perennially big laughs, when this large-ish woman talks about Iolanthe teaching her how to dive into a dewdrop, nestle in a nutshell, gambol upon gossamer, etc. A wide-eyed fairy always responds with "My! She certainly did surprising things!" the obvious humor, of course, is that the queen is talking about fitting her large-ish body into teeny, tiny spaces. But it hardly got a titter last night because of the way the lines were delivered.
The real knockout performances were by Ewing as the Lord Chancellor, Rietkerk as Phyllis and Cary Ann Rosko in the title role. She gave a beautifully sensitive performance and chemistry with Ewing was very good.
Intermission was a real trip down memory lane. I stayed in the house while Walt wandered around and, not having brought a book along to read, I was looking over the list of donors printed in the program. Talk about evoking memories. So many contributions in honor of old Lamplighters no longer with us, like Jean Ziaja, Minna Millett (from the tech crew), Peter Weller, and others. One donation lumped them all together: "in memory of Jean, Mary, Spencer, Gil, John, June, Peggy and Dan."
And I had to laugh. I used to type the donor list for the program years and years ago and I recognized many of the names, who are still donating to the company. There was one dontation that came in every year "Gretchen and John XXX and Alicia." The donation read that way for every program and then one day it came in as just "Gretchen and John XXX." I wondered what had happened to Alicia. Was she their child? Their cat? Did she die? By chance, I happened to take a phone call from one of the XXXs one day and when I heard the name I had to ask about Alicia. I had come to really worry about her. They laughed. Alicia was their daughter, who was now grown up and off to college, so they decided to take her off the listing. But here they are, 20+ years later, still donating money (and Alicia is still not part of the donation).
It was fun chatting with some of the performers after the show. Chris Focht has been with the company for 42 years and we've seen him do this doddering old peer many times. I told him he's almost old enough to make it NOT an act any more!
I also met Mimu Tsujimura, whom I just friended on Facebook today, in fact. I don't know her at all, but she takes great backstage photos and if I want to comment on them, I had to be her Facebook friend. But we've now talked and hugged and so I can call her a face-to-face "friend"!
And I talked with Jim Campbell, who was the conductor for this production. I told him that I had recently been contacted by a mutual friend (we both knew him through Gilbert) after a silence of more than 20 years. Ironically, Jim had also just encountered him (on Facebook, in fact--we both found his contact information through a mutual friend in Italy!) two days ago. We we are both now waiting to see who hears back from this guy first.
It was just really one of "those" nights where everything goes well and you just come home smiling. I must have had a good time. We got home at 11:45 and I've stayed up for nearly two hours to get this "not-a-review" review that I didn't have to write and won't post for at least 15 hours written! But I'm headed off to sleep, with that smile still plastered on my face.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
My Diablo burger
MILES TO NOWHERE: 94.5 miles