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UMGASS's 'Iolanthe' revives a classic fairy tale fantasy

By Tehreem Sajjad, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 5, 2012

Magic, fairies and forbidden love: This year, the University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society brings all the drama and comedy of fairyland onto the stage with their production of “Iolanthe.”

“Iolanthe” attempts to blend the fruitful personalities of the classic fantasy world creature, fairies, with members of the British parliament. Though on the surface “Iolanthe” seems to be a play about a crowd of misguided fairies, its fantasy aspect is an eye-opener into reality.

The play commences with the fairies mourning the anniversary of Iolanthe’s exile, a fairy that committed the crime of marrying a human 25 years prior. When the Fairy Queen is convinced to pardon Iolanthe, the banished fairy is brought back with her son, Strephon. It’s soon revealed that Strephon is in love with Phyllis, the ward of the Lord Chancellor. Unfortunately, the Chancellor forbids Strephon from marrying Phyllis because of his low rank. When Phyllis asks for Iolanthe’s help, things begin to look up for not only Strephon, but all of fairyland as well.

For Robyn Tierney, artistic director of the production, this will be her first UMGASS show.

“We wanted to focus more on some of the previous productions that we’ve seen and that have gotten good reviews,” she said. “We really wanted to make this silly. We wanted to embrace the comedic elements of it. We have some funny characters and we have very good characterization of the actors — we really dove into further characterization and the personalities that Gilbert and Sullivan have written.”

UMGASS is the oldest student-run organization devoted to operettas of Sir William Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. It serves as a pedestal for theater students and a creative outlet for community members who are devoted to the theater.

The cast consists of University students and community members, Tierney explained.

“So, we have a nice blend — younger students all the way up to the golden age community members — many of which are faculty at the school. We have a very nice variety of those who have learned the talent, vocally as well as just stage presence. So the cast is very diverse.”

As a fantasy, “Iolanthe” is a classic fairy tale with a tinge of comedic reality.

“It’s very goofy, it’s very silly. It’s a light-hearted comedy: definitely a comic opera,” Tierney said.

“(‘Iolanthe’) is not one of Gilbert and Sullivan's well known plays,” Tierney concluded. “They are known more for ‘H.M.S Pinafore’ and ‘Pirates of Penzance,’ but this particular production has been a really fun experience … you can look back and say that it’s very entertaining and that the audience will be able to sit back and enjoy the show.”


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