The Washington Savoyards' 'Iolanthe' at the Atlas Theater

Monday, March 30, 2009; 12:32 PM

See if you can keep this straight. Strephon (an Arcadian shepherd) is the son of Iolanthe (a wayward fairy) and the Lord Chancellor (a high-born mortal). Strephon, therefore, is part fairy (the top half) and part mortal (the bottom half). Phyllis (a shepherdess) loves Strephon. Strephon loves Phyllis, but so does the whole House of Lords. Mixed into this Gilbert and Sullivan romp are a gaggle of fairies, their queen and a gruff and proper Grenadier Guard. No surprise that everyone ends up happily paired off.

The Washington Savoyards' production of "Iolanthe," which opened for a two-week run at the Atlas Theater on Friday, though uneven and at times strange, is great fun nevertheless. It's worth a trip to the Atlas if only to see the delightful Jase Parker as the Lord Chancellor. He's a wonderful comic, moves magnificently and has the character down perfectly.

Only the band of fairies, who come across as hyperactive, overstimulated flower children, is evidence of director Scott Kenison's decision to set the action in 1968. The befuddled peers seem to leap from decade to decade, first appearing as 1920s-era cricket-playing noblemen, then as the Victorian lords that Gilbert conceived, and finally as dapper contemporary businessmen. Strephon and Phyllis seem comfortably and timelessly suburban, and the Lord Chancellor, Guard and Queen are happily Victorian throughout.

Maria Barnes as Iolanthe, Annie Gill as Phyllis and Melissa Kornacki as the Queen of the Fairies sang well and grew into their comic timing as the evening went on. As two Earls, Sean Pflueger and Ronnie Hardcastle engaged in sparkling repartee. Rob Thompson was a splendid Guard. The fairies were too strident for my taste but full of energy, and the peers were delightfully stodgy. As Strephon, however, John Dellaporta seemed oddly disassociated and worried. He sang well enough, but it never seemed as if he was focusing on what was going on. Conductor Shawn Burke-Storer paced things nicely, and sets and costumes were simple and effective.

-- Joan Reinthaler

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