Patience, Gilbert and Sullivan’s sixth operetta, is one extended late-19th-century joke. During the aesthetic craze in England, the “twenty love-sick maidens” of the show have abandoned their military fiancés to moon after a poet with long hair and pre-Raphaelite clothes. With a flimsy plot even by G&S standards, the work is clearly just an excuse to poke fun at this fad. Its ridiculousness certainly comes across in Gilbert’s words and Barbara Heroux’s staging for the Lamplighters, but over nearly three hours, the joke wears a little thin.
To be clear: this is a failure of writing, not execution. Other than occasionally ponderous tempos, the Lamplighters’ Patience gets everything right. A uniformly excellent cast and chorus inhabit a lavish production. Melissa Wortman’s costumes (revived by Miriam Lewis) are sumptuous pseudo-medieval creations of velvet and satin, with stunning arts-and-crafts embroidery. Even the Victorian bustle dresses that appear only in the final scene have spot-on silhouettes and great variety of style and color. While I drooled over the costumes, Peter Crompton’s sets had the rest of the audience gasping, especially when the curtains opened on the second act to reveal a columned marble patio overlooking a seascape.
Jennifer Mitchell sang the title role with an expressive soprano voice and a bewildering Irish accent. (I suppose this operetta is so silly that worrying about why the village milkmaid sounds like she’s from Ireland is pointless.) Her top notes sounded harsh in “I cannot tell what this love may be”, but her tone settled by “Long years ago, fourteen maybe”, where she showed a full, ringing voice and excellent storytelling ability. Cary Anne Rosko and Michele Schroder led the rest of the maidens as Lady Angela and Lady Saphir, lending those characters bright voices, arch glances, and languishing poses.
The spinster Lady Jane’s mock-tragic aria “Silvered is the raven hair” was a comedic highlight of the operetta, sung with rolling sound, comical scoops, and deadpan delivery by Anne Hubble. The wit of Gilbert’s lyrics was underscored by Hubble’s perfectly timed sawing on the cello. In fact, she seems to have a particular talent for playing instruments onstage – her sudden appearance gleefully crashing cymbals during “Let the merry cymbals sound” was another moment of surprising humor.
Lamplighters' men impressed as well. As the Colonel, Charles Martin delivered tongue- and mind-twisting patter in “If you want a receipt for that popular mystery”, leaving me thinking that the real mystery was how he remembered and delivered such a rapid string of references to long-forgotten people and institutions. Rod Cadweller’s Duke proved his comedic abilities in his self-deprecating first scene and his charming voice in “If Saphir I choose to marry”. Ben Porter ably rounded out the trio of dragoons-turned-aesthetes as the Major.
Of course, the men who matter most – to both the ladies and to the show’s success – are the two aesthetic poets. Here, the Lamplighters were doubly blessed. F. Lawrence Ewing gave the sham aesthete Bunthorne such excessive airs (his reading of his own poem was so wonderfully, painfully over-the-top) that “Am I alone, and unobserved?” came as a relief. His conversational tone and smooth, pleasant singing voice were a nice change. As the irresistible Archibald Grosvenor, Samuel Faustine cut a fine figure in sky-blue velvet aesthetic dress. His light, clear voice blended beautifully with Mitchell’s for a meltingly lovely “Prithee, pretty maiden”. On the strength of the rest of his portrayal, even his atrocious cockney accent in the last scene deserves forgiveness.
The chorus of rapturous maidens and officers of the dragoon guards carried the show. They sang in well-blended harmony and adopted absurd “stained-glass attitudes” at every turn. (That is, the rapturous maidens did. The men were decidedly more military, except for the three who gave the aesthetic style a try in hopes of winning back their ladyloves.) Conducted by David Möschler, the Lamplighters Orchestra played with verve. The brass and percussion made an especially energetic show during the dragoons’ entrance, while the strings ably supported the ballads. A quicker pace would have improved the performance.
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