UTOPIA AT MIT: UTOPIA, Ltd. is a strange and disturbing play, apparently written by Gilbert in an extremely bitter mood. He ridicules the contralto even more cruelly than usual; he gives the Girton-educated Princess Zara an appalling closing speech which shows her to be even more bubble-headed than her fellow bluestocking Ida; and in Mr. Goldbury he creates a morally ambiguous character who oddly woos a Utopian maiden by singing a mocking song praising English girls, and cynically introduces fraudulent business practices to the Utopian people.
But mirabile dictu, MITG&SP's recent production, with stage direction by Joe Sweeney and musical direction by Jay Lane, provided a thoroughly enjoyable evening! The credit was largely due to Mr. Sweeney, who cut the most gruesome song ("First you're born"), and underplayed many of the most offensive lines. For example, on opening night (although not in a later performance that I also saw), Lady Sophy's line about European monarchs begging her to leave their court with tears in their eyes escaped without a laugh. And David Jedlinsky as Mr. Goldbury sang both his songs simply and pleasantly, without a hint of sleaziness.
The outstanding performance of the evening was given by Anita Costanzo as Lady Sophy, the epitome of a gracious English lady, with a lovely rich contralto voice. Dan Kamalic (last season's Sorcerer) was excellent as Scaphio; his diction is impeccable. I hope to hear Ilena Wadler, who was successfully cross-cast as "Miss" Blushington (the County Councillor), in a larger role someday. And David Jedlinsky and Kevin Mitchell (Lord Dramaleigh), as the twins' suitors, were completely charming. Mr. Mitchell has a disconcerting habit of raising his hand every time he has a line, and seemed afraid to touch his young lady, but he's "quite young", and no doubt "that will wear off".
Mike Bromberg did impressive double duty as Tarara and lighting designer. The live volcano was an excellent and memorable effect. I could have done without the black light in the "Minstrel" number, however.
The musical weak spots in the cast were Sheldon Brown, as King Paramount, and Leslie Corn, as Captain Corcoran. Mr. Brown created such a wonderful character that I, at least, readily forgave him his many out-of-tune notes. Not so Mr. Corn. He mercilessly hammed up and dragged out his brief number, so bogging down the Act I finale that I was afraid it would never get moving again. I loved the look Lord Dramaleigh gave him when he was done.
The cast also included Robert Morrison as Phantis, Joseph Kaye as Calynx, splendid singers Mario Sengco and Holly Teichholtz as the lovers Zara and Fitzbattleaxe, Jeff Bigler as Sir Bailey Barre, Andrea Humez and Lya Ana Batlle as the twins Nekaya and Kalyba, Rebecca Consentino as Phylla, Lucy Lim as the extraordinarily graceful Salata, and Tova Brown as Melene. Mention should also be made of Brenda Winston's choreography, including a lovely hula dance during "Quaff the nectar" and a spirited Tarantella; and the fine orchestra under Jay Lane's skillful baton.
-- NANCY BURSTEIN
New to me was their Zara, Holly Teichholtz, sweet-voiced and effective. Also especially effective were Mr. Goldbury (David Jedlinsky) and Scaphio (Daniel Kamalic), in roles in which their clarity of diction was especially appreciated. Lady Sophy (Anita Costanzo) was impeccably proper. Chorus member Tova Brown was unusually convincing in conveying her character, which she may have learned from her father, an engaging and facially expressive King Paramount (Sheldon Brown).
I enjoyed several minor bits of staging. "In lazy languor motionless" included a change of shifts which drew a laugh. "Boldfaced ranger" recruited different chorus members to demonstrate each "scene", or verse, and the onlooking chorus was obviously learning from each demonstration. In "Some seven men form an association", Mr. Goldbury showed "If you come to grief" explicitly, with emptied pockets turned inside-out. The lovely twins Kalyba (Lya Ana Batlle) and Nekaya (Andrea Humez), when coaxed out of their demureness, each in turn let down their hair and "It's all her own and it's worth the showing!" The set seemed simple and effective, but revealed a hidden complexity when the background peak turned into a volcano for the Scaphio-Phantis "With fury deep we burn" duet. The rebellion had the Flowers of Progress bound and helpless, except for the appearance of Captain Fitzbattleaxe and the First Life Guards lending authority to King Paramount's casting about for a solution.
I had with me a friend new to G&S, and expected that she might have to be coaxed to see G&S again. Happily, that extremity will not be required.