REVIEW: Sprites and Satire at the Mendelssohn: UMGASS’s Iolanthe

In the director’s note for Robyn Tierney’s UMGASS production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, she says “I could have manifested my own creative expression into the delivery of the show, but I believe Gilbert and Sullivan had enough creative expression of their own; mine would only complicate things…I would present Iolanthe in a more traditional environment, one that captures the original brilliance and wit of our two theatrical heroes.” It’s a long-running debate in the world of repertory-based music-theatre: should the director preserve “traditional” practices and try to produce the piece as it would have been on the night it premiered, or should they go in an uncommon direction to try and bring out an aspect of the work that has hitherto gone unnoticed by past interpreters? Directors who pursue either approach run the risk of losing sight of the paying public and alienating audiences. The traditionalist can present a performance that is pedantically attentive to the practices of a bygone age, and thus of interest only to historians. The nontraditionalist can craft an interpretation so radically different that the meaning of the piece is lost, and confuses both newcomers and audience members familiar with the piece. It takes a director with a strong sense of the heart of a particular theatrical work to bring any production to life, “traditional” or not.

Thankfully, Tierney understands Iolanthe very well. She brings out the edgy irony of the piece with aplomb, while not neglecting the slightly mystical unearthliness. This production of Iolanthe is the best kind of Gilbert and Sullivan production, one that has all of the charm and none of the quaintness, decidedly Victorian in atmosphere but with the slightest pinch of 21st-century irreverence.

A good supplement to Tierney’s traditionalist cause is the fact that Iolanthe is a Gilbert and Sullivan work that has aged reasonably well. The trademark Gilbertian social satire is simultaneously biting and absurd (although rather less subtle than in, say, The Mikado), with a plot concerning a painfully idiotic House of Peers having their political powers taken away by a crew of vengeful fairies. The jibes about the folly of having politicians vote based on which party they belong to, rather than what they personally believe, seem particularly pertinent in today’s political climate.

The cast, as per usual with UMGASS, gave thoroughly intelligent and charming portrayals of their characters. The two ensembles in particular brought everything that was needed. Each member of the House of Peers, plus the Lord Chancellor (Don Regan), brought a definite and different brand of buffoonery to each individual part, from Jon Roselle’s obsequious Lord Tolloller to Don Regan’s alternatingly intellectual and befuddled Lord Chancellor. The fairies were exceedingly animated and characterful as well, graceful and sardonic in equal measure. The contrast between the sassy sprites and the blustering bluebloods was terrific to watch. Amanda O’Toole brought a noble bearing and a truly glorious contralto voice to the role of the Fairy Queen. Joshua Glassman combined a gleefully goofy demeanor and a sterling tenor voice in his portrayal of Strephon. Alexandria Strother, as Phyllis, delivered her dialogue with a strikingly naturalistic bent and her lyrics with a pristine soprano tone. Tina Pandya’s choreography was exceedingly well-suited to the music and lyrics: very merry, somewhat silly and occasionally even witty, not something easy to pull off with dance. Not to be discounted are the lovely costumes by Marilyn Gouin and Tam Prentice, which clearly defined the personalities and stations of the various characters with economy and beauty. Also to be commended are the lovely sets designed by Cynthia Lempert and Laura Strowe, evoking the Arcadian environs of the fairies in the first act and creating a picturesque nighttime view of the London skyline in the second.

One minor quibble I had concerned the delivery of some of the lines. Gilbert’s deliberately arch and verbose style, while effective in its time at lampooning the artificial stage conceits that Gilbert so despised, needs a little something extra to come off properly today. The words, while extremely eloquent and clever, ought to be “sold” a little in order to come off properly; this is especially true in the long and intricate passages of dialogue delineating the paradoxes and puzzles of logic that were Gilbert’s forte. It’s a delicate balance, for if the lines or lyrics are too heavily exaggerated, then the wit is lost; however, if they are said too plainly, the import of the words is easy to miss. There should be just the slightest splash of Technicolor in the delivery, just a little something extra to make the words truly register. For the most part, the cast did very well at keeping this balance. Two cast members in particular achieved this clarity through very different methods: Glassman delivered his lines with a delightful silliness that somehow felt perfectly natural, stopping just short of too much; Regan spoke his lines with pinpoint diction and a terrific sense of timing, pausing ever so slightly in his monologues to give the jokes just enough time to set in before moving on. Still, there were a few occasions where some lines that ought to have won gleeful guffaws ended up getting a bit lost, receiving only a smattering of chuckles. But this was only the first night—now that the cast has played to a full audience, hopefully they will be able to easily find their oratorical bearings.

If you are looking to introduce yourself to the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, Iolanthe might be one of the best ones to see first. It has all the hallmarks of the Gilbert and Sullivan style in full effect: intricate absurdity wedded with music of beautiful sprightliness (ably conducted by music director Matthew Balmer and performed by the orchestra, which has too many members to name here). If that sounds at all appealing to you, Iolanthe will more than likely be well worth your time.

Iolanthe is running December 7-8 at 8:00 P.M. and December 8-9 at 2:00 P.M. at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Tickets are available at

PREVIEW: Band of Horses… and horses and horses

Monday December 3
Michigan Theater
$32.50 (seats still available.) Buy tickets by calling 800-745-3000,

Band of horses:

From Seattle. This lovely band has a folky, indi-rock sound. their percussion and melody combine quite beautifully to crate a spectacular and enjoyable sound. They are similar to the Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, The Shins and the National.

Review: Battle of the Bands

Friday November 16th the Pendleton room in the Student Union turned into a stage for 5 Michigan Bands:

Through out the night there were 150 or so students who wandered in and out of this event, held by New Beat Happening. People seemed to enjoy the performances and were involved in the voting process, choosing the winner of this year’s Battle of the Bands.
I unfortunately missed the first two bands but I heard very good things.

Moon Roots

Popliteal Fossa

has a sound similar to Radiohead, which is hard to pull off. Atherial vocals, lovely and creative guitar melodies etc. Unfortunately something odd was happening with the microphones and the vocalist’s higher notes were garbled. They were the winners of the Battle and will either be opening for New Beat Happening’s headliner in the winter semester or will have their own show sponsored by NBH.

Joanah Baseball
mixes music, samplings etc. He is a University student and fun to dance to. However, he does need to work on some of his song transitions. Poor transitions can be the downfall of any DJ.

The last band Super Collider
consists of 3 guy’s on guitar, bass and drums. They are very good and were later the favorite to win the Battle (votes over road this enthusiasm) Their music is psudo sca. No vocals but excellent skill with instrumentals, which can make or break a band. Check them out, they really are excellent!

Keep your eyes peeled for more NBH concerts and events, as well as concerts sponsored by EQMC and WCBN! Especially if you like good music, these people really know what they are talking about.

Review: Hold me Bat Boy, Touch me Bat Boy…..

I went to see the Department of Musical Theater’s performance of “Bat Boy” on Saturday instead of going to the IOWA game. I’m pretty positive I made the right choice.

For those of you who don’t know, this musical is based off the “Weekly World News” Headline “Found in West Virginia Cave – a half boy, half bat!” The writers of this farce Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming couldn’t have asked for a better setting or subject matter. They, along with Music contributions from Laurence O’Keefe, have created their own monster of dark, clever and campy humor, complex plot, cross-dressing Virginians (although, this may have been an artistic choice of the MT director), incest, love, random woodsy scenes…. it goes on.

The music is memorable, the choreography, by director Linda Goodrich, was entertaining and creative. And what can I say about the cast?

Bat Boy – junior Ryan Vasques has a beautiful tenor voice and a phenomenal stage presence. He uses his whole body to express himself, which was important for this role. His development from non-verbal Bat Boy to well educated young man was very believable, which considering the subject matter was an unexpected experience.

Shelly Parker – senior Ashley Park also has a strong voice and held her own on stage with a number of very dominant male characters. Her playful body language was fun and Park knew just how far to push the caricature with out becoming tedious or annoying, which is harder than one might think. Her comfort in her own skin was apparent and definitely helped the strength of her role.

Meridith Parker – senior Jane Bruce has a strength in her that radiates into every corner of the theater. Her voice is full and strong, well developed and matured. She carried the emotional trials of her character very well and held a “No” for an impressively long time! Bruce was very enjoyable to watch on stage. She harmonizes beautifully too!

Dr. Thomas Parker – junior Zachary Thompson. I’ve met Zach once. He told me to go see Bat Boy. I didn’t realize over all what I was about to get myself into nor did I know what to expect from Zach’s performance. Let me tell you that Zachery Thompson is quite the physical actor. I was quite impressed to see what he could do with his body, the wiggles and natural flow that he was able to whip out at will. His comedic timing was unbeatable in this production and he didn’t miss a note. Thompson was also very convincing in his role. He masterfully perpetuated the plot line and seamlessly carried himself through from beginning to end.

Senior Travis Ward-Osborne (Rick Taylor, Lorraine, Mr Dillion) who’s voice and (again) physicality blew me away. Ward-Osborne was close to stealing the show if his fellow leads hadn’t been so overwhelmingly strong.

The ensemble did a very nice job, they were beautifully in synch with each other. Unfortunately senior Jordan Barrow (Mrs. Taylor, Reverend Billy Hightower, Roy) although he had a beautiful voice could not project past his mic. When he was playing the Reverend his voice got lost in the crowd, which was too bad because his performance was otherwise very impressive.

All in all this was a fantastic production, my first experience of the Musical Theater Department at Michigan. The set design was amazing, the lighting not too overwhelming (thank god, there is nothing worse than a bad lighting designer).

The only complaint I really have about the production is the acoustics in the Arthur Miller Theater, the sound wall created by the band sometimes made the voices difficult to hear and the hard boxy walls deadened sound.

So it Goes.

See a Dept of Musical Theater show! They are very talented and worthwhile!

Preview pt. 2: Battle of the Bands, let the battle begin

Friday Nov 16th (THIS FRIDAY)
7:30 pm
Pendleton Room in the Michigan Union
$3 at the door

Come join New Beat Happening this Friday night for a wonderful celebration of local music. There are 6 bands from around Michigan, Ann Arbor and the University playing for the chance to win a chance to open for a nationally touring band in the spring, or have their own headlining show booked by New Beat Happening and the University of Michigan!!!!

Come out, dance to some excellent music, vote for your favorite sounds and support your local music scene!!!

REVIEW: Women’s Glee Club Fall Concert

In my philosophy class recently, I learned about the difference between what is “beautiful” and what is “sublime.”

Imagine the compactness of a flower bed: how intricate each flower is, how symmetrical and harmonious nature can be, and how it’s hard not to smile when we see something as simply wonderful as a flower bed. This is beauty.

The sublime, on the other hand, is something grandiose that provokes emotions of grandeur and magnificence. To see something sublime is to feel slightly terrified of its power. What’s best about these definitions is that feelings of the splendid sublime are pervaded with beauty.

Saturday night at Hill Auditorium, I felt the sublime pervaded with beauty. As the members of the Women’s Glee Club walked onstage singing “Tshotsoloza,” a South African song about a train, the beauty of vocal contrasts dwelled in my ears. The acoustics in that place are near perfect, I’m sure you’ve heard, but there’s nothing better than having a musical group use that to their benefit. The layering of the vocals never ceases to astound me, especially with a unisex singing group. I’ve never understood vocal workings myself – soprano, tenor, bass, etc., so I say with great modesty that the Women’s Glee Club fused voices mellifluously.

Beyond the singing, the first half of the concert was spent reminiscing on their trip to South Africa. Pictures and videos brought life to the stories the members told, but nothing told their story better than the songs. “Voici le printemps, mon cousin,” a Belgian song sung in French that was introduced to them by the Belgian glee club, posed a stark contrast to the other tribal-sounding songs from South Africa. Even “Ngana,” an Australian song, blended more with the South African songs.

The song “Homeland” stuck out to me as both sublime and beautiful. The solos were beautiful, undoubtedly, showcasing individual voices that meld into the group. However, during crescendos, the feeling was sublime – my heart and ears swelled with the group’s voices. The piano was not cumbersome and accompanied the club perfectly. Naturally, the placement of such a climactic and emotional song fit incredibly in their song-list.

The Women’s Glee Club entirely outdid themselves on Saturday night. With the anecdotal first half of South Africa, and a second half highlighted with instruments and soloists, the club put on an utterly sublime and beautiful show.