"Tripping hither, tripping thither,/We are dainty little fairies," sings the suitably attired chorus as they break poses in the decorous tableau that opens the Lamplighters Music Theatre’s latest production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s "Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri." For Lamplighters regulars and G&S fans, it is the happy start to another few hours of willing suspension of disbelief - unless you do believe in fairies - and immersion in a merry world of ridiculously complicated plot twists, hummable tunes, and biting social satire.
"Iolanthe" came at the midway point of the G&S partnership, and it has always been an outstanding crowd-pleaser, right up there with the big three - "The Mikado," "Pirates of Penzance" and "H.M.S. Pinafore" - beloved for its lovely and sophisticated music (more than a few appropriate echoes of Mendelssohn), tongue-twisting patter songs, and spot-on skewering of the British class system.
The most recent Lamplighters opening night, at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, was off to a good start the moment veteran Music Director/Conductor Baker Peeples entered the pit. His years of shaping the orchestra’s sound and his unerring sense of timing give a unique stamp of confidence and tradition to every production he leads. And tradition is what the company is all about. There is never any condescension to the material, and hardly any unnecessary updating with the more unavoidably obscure lines. There is a glossary in every program, so there is no reason to explain what a "bathing machine" is. Why, a horse-drawn vehicle used as a dressing room for modest bathers at the beach, of course!
The sets and costumes are always old-fashioned in the best and sturdiest sense. Prettily painted prosceniums and backdrops and sumptuously detailed costumes are the hallmarks of every Lamplighters show. But the most important guarantee the company gives is a professional and loving rendition of the beautiful score. Comic timing and appropriately Victorian-style acting are vital as well, but there is no messing with the music, on that you can rely.
This latest incarnation of the story of a boy who is half-fairy (on his mother’s side) and mortal from the waist down (thanks, Dad) is dispatched with typical glee by alternating casts that included, on opening night, a newcomer to the troupe, tenor Samuel Rabinowitz as young Strephon (the crazy, mixed-up son of banished fairy Iolanthe, and lovelorn suitor of a mortal girl). His bright and tightly controlled voice is not too full-bodied, but he has a pleasing sound, and his acting and appearance serve him well. His G&S career and growing repertoire look promising.