Promised in marriage at the early age of one, Princess Ida lectures that woman must first place her feet upon man's neck. Only then, man conquered, may she treat him better than he treated womankind. By the end of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operetta named after the mighty maiden, this may seem the only solution for her betrothed, who wishes to win her love. One can already see the dashing Prince Hilarion stooping to offer his head when he and two friends dress in women's clothing and sneak into Ida's all-female university.
The satire-marked comedy excels in matching feminism and man's Darwinian apeness with romantic thought and male supremacy. Full of ridiculous situations and memorable songs, "Princess Ida" is, sadly, one of the creators' less-performed operettas. Fortunately for Northern California audiences, Lamplighters Music Theatre is bringing it to several bay area stages every weekend through February 17, having last performed it in 2003.
Barbara Heroux directs the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival award-winning production, adding plenteous humor with personalized staging and delightful choreography, particularly during the male trio's "I Am A Maiden." Lovely storybook sets with vine-inspired framing and attractive costumes evoking a medieval era play with pastel colors and draw the audience in.
Vocally, Lamplighters' production teeters between incredible and disappointing (depending on which of the alternating cast members perform). Saturday's performance at the Lesher Center saw a vocally strained David Sasse as Prince Hilarion, although Sasse's energy and charisma as an actor did not suffer. A better-suited Michael Desnoyers as sidekick Cyril, on the other hand, had a smooth tenor voice, which he used to woo Yum-Yum in the Lamplighters' recent production of "The Mikado." Desnoyers shared that role with Robert Vann, who now alternates with Sasse in "Ida."
Chris Uzelac, who plays Hilarion's other sidekick, Florian, provided another up and down performance, with many vocal highs, but also a few lows. Rick Williams delivered a devious, dilapidated old King Gama in two of the operetta's most famous numbers, "If You Give Me Your Attention" and "Whene'er I Spoke Sarcastic Joke." And Robby Stafford (alternating with William Neely) sang the role of the proud and amused King Hildebrand. CharLes Martin, Sean Irwin and Jordan Eldredge also provide much comic sparkle as the absurd warrior brothers of Ida, each with their own unique character traits.
Doing Ida's ideas proud, the females of "Princess Ida" provided more consistent vocals. Jennifer Ashworth made a brilliant, strong Princess Ida, adorned in shining armor usually reserved for men. Jamie McDonald (alternating with Cary Ann Rosko) made a hilarious, ambitious Lady Blanche, and Molly Mahoney (alternating with Michele Schroeder) had a refreshing youthful air about her as Blanche's daughter, Melissa. Rose Frazier also lent beautiful and lively vocals as Lady Psyche.
Like its cast, Lamplighters' "Princess Ida" has an overall liveliness and strong appeal to it. Lamplighters' staging certainly makes one of the most entertaining stagings available, but it will only be around for a few more weeks before it goes into the vault again. Audiences ought to see the operetta while they can. It's one of Gilbert and Sullivan's best.
Lamplighters Music Theatre
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
Bankhead Theater, Livermore
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts