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A CurtainUp Review
Having already satirized the Art for Art movement in Patience, and the House of Lords in Iolanthe, Gilbert and Sullivan turned their attention to the feminist movement in this 1884 operetta. Princess Ida, however, was not quite a new work; it was rather based on Gilbert's satire of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "The Princess," written fourteen years previously.
Princess Ida is basically a love story in which Hilarion (Colm Fitzmaurice), son of King Hildebrand (Keith Jurosko), courts Princess Ida (Kimilee Bryant), daughter of King Gama (Stephen Quint). The courtship is particularly difficult because the princess has forsworn the company of men, even though she has been engaged to Hildebrand since they were both babies.
Hilarion's pursuit of Ida begins when, along with his two friends, Cyril (Patrick Hogan) and Florian (William Whitefield), he sets out for Castle Adamant where Ida's feminist utopian university is located. There the three men find the academic robes left behind by three of the girls. They immediately disguise themselves in these robes, but they don't fool anyone for long.
Hilarion, Cyril and Florian's true identities are soon discovered by the scheming Lady Blanche (the glorious Dianna Dollman), professor of abstract science ("Come Mighty Must"); Lady Psyche (Shana Farr), professor of humanities, Florian's sister and Cyril's childhood playmate; and Melissa (Melissa Attebury), Lady Blanche's daughter.
Ida takes the three men prisoner, and Hildebrand arrives with his men and Ida's father and brother, whom he has taken prisoner as a way of persuading Ida to marry Hilarion. The future looks bleak for Hilarion. It is only when Hilarion and his friends reclaim their masculinity and fight for Ida that love triumphs.
Although some critics believe Princess Ida contains some of Gilbert and Sullivan's best lyrics and music, the operetta never achieved the fame of many others. One can see why. While poking fun at the aestheticism espoused by Oscar Wilde or the snobbery and privilege of the rich is always valid, even when Princess Ida was first performed, a parody on educated women was already out of style.
Nevertheless, director and conductor Bergeret does his best to update the show by substituting current references for more obscure ones. Thus the men in drag sing Bernstein's "I Feel Pretty," and there's talk about the impossibility of separating not only Gilbert and Sullivan, but also Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Lloyd and Webber.
There's some great talent in this production. Bryant is an impeccable soprano. Quint is eloquently misanthropic. And Fitzmaurice, Hogan and Whitefield steal the show when they prance around the stage in the women's robes singing "I Am a Maiden." But Princess Ida doesn't do quite as well when the performers sing in chorus and most of Sullivan's lyrics are lost.
The problem may be the theater's acoustics or the sound system, but whatever the cause, the result is damaging. This is a shame because Gilbert is often at his most clever in this show. But even more, it is a pity because there is so much to like in this production.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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