“It’s a farcical plot involving the English British government lampooning politics and fairies,” said actor Susan Weinman.
Philadelphia’s Savoy Theater Company is gearing up for several upcoming performances of “Iolanthe, or the Peer and the Peri,” a comedic operetta written by famous English playwrights W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. The production, which contains several actors from South Philly, plans to perform three shows at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre on May 18 and 19, and two shows at Longwood Gardens on June 8 and 9. Additionally, the Savoy Theater Company is planning to take its version of the opera to Harrogate, England, for the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, which takes place from Aug. 8–27.
In the opera, Iolanthe, who is a fairy, has been banished from fairyland because she married a mortal — something forbidden by fairy law. Her half-fairy-half-mortal son, Strephon, is an Arcadian shepherd who wants to marry Phyllis, a Ward of Chancery. All the members of the British Parliament’s House of Peers also want to marry Phyllis. When Phyllis sees Strephon hugging a young woman (not knowing that it is his mother — immortal fairies all appear young because they do not age), she assumes the worst and sets off a climactic confrontation between the peers and the fairies. The opera satirizes many aspects of British government, law and society. The confrontation between the fairies and the peers is a version of one of Gilbert’s favorite themes: a tranquil civilization of women is disrupted by a male-dominated world through the discovery of mortal love.
“It’s a farcical plot involving the English British government lampooning politics and fairies,” said actor Susan Weinman, who plays the Fairy Queen character in the production and also resides in South Philly. “It puts the fairies and the peers directly head to head, and it sets them in a world of a fairytale. And I guess that’s about as simple as I can put it. It’s very bright and happy and lots of jokes on various different levels.”
“It’s a wonderful score,” said Tom Faracco, an actor who plays a character called Lord Tolloller in the opera and who also resides in South Philly. “Of all the pieces that come across, this one has the most wonderful music, wonderful orchestration, the solo parts as well as the core parts are funny and exciting and also very moving. There’s lots of militaristic march type music for the lords, and the peers and the fairies music is very ethereal. It creates a wonderful atmosphere. Many, many beautiful melodies. You’ll be humming them on the way home.”
“[The production] is couched in wonderful humor and great music,” said Alize Rozsnyai, a South Philly resident who plays the sought-after Phyllis. “[The audience] can expect to laugh a lot, but also feel a very sincere sense of humanism. There’s a lot of really touching moments in the production.”
Rozsnyai noted those who enjoy witty British humor would particularly enjoy the production.
“If you’re a Monty Python fan, the operatic version of that is Gilbert and Sullivan,” she said. “It’s a really great work.”
Two of the Suzanne Roberts Theatre performances will occur at 8 p.m. on both Friday, May 18, and Saturday, May 19. An additional Saturday matinee will occur at 3 p.m. on the 19th. Tickets for the Suzanne Roberts Theater production are available at philadelphiatheatrecompany.org and range in price from $35 to $50. The Longwood Gardens performance, which will take place at 8:30 p.m. on June 8 and 9, will cost $29 to attend; however, admission also includes entry to the grounds. If you’re looking to make the trip across the pond, tickets to the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival performance, which will occur at the Royal Theatre in Harrogate, England, on Aug. 13, will run you £20