Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iolanthe, Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin, June 11 - 21

What a sensation Gilbert & Sullilvan must have been back then, the 19th century London equivalent of our Capitol Steps and Second City rolled into one! In fine satirical style, in their best known works they took on the Empire, the peerage, exotic Asia and the Royal Navy.

The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin in its 34th year brings us with Iolanthe their mockery of Parliament itself, pairing the pompous velvet-clad peers of the House of Lords with diaphanous fairies operating by quite a different set of social rules.

Gilbert and Sullivan provided my very first initiation into musical theatre. I was about 12 years old when my father took my brother and me to see The Mikado, all unprepared, in the distinctly unexotic setting of a high school in northern Alabama. We were enraptured by the music, the style, the color and the wit, and we have probably not recovered even yet. I took my wife, equally unexposed to G&S, to see this production of Iolanthe. I was cheered to see on her face, throughout the two acts, the same very attentive little smile that must have marked my own, way back then.

Their light opera is brainy stuff, pretty far removed from your standard American broadway musical. Recognizing that Austin's G&S society has put a lot of effort into teaching and outreach. Artistic director Ralph MacPhail Jr. and musical director Jeffrey Jones-Ragona worked the talk shows with Dianne Donovan at classical station KMFA and with John Aielli at KUT-FM. Their website includes streaming video both on the front page and on the page providing a history of the organization, with photo and video galleries reporting the last five years of productions. Since Gilbert and Sullivan is music, song and promenading-cum-dancing, that visual approach is effective.

Read more at . . . .

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