On February 19, a capacity audience at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts eagerly awaited the final performance of Lamplighters ‘Patience’, which has been touring the Bay Area. I was both surprised and delighted to see a smattering of millennials in this Sunday’s matinee, which just goes to show that the youth training, programs in schools and community outreach programs that are part and parcel of Lamplighters Musical Theater really work. Certainly ‘Patience’ is one of the lesser known operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan but this was the 14th production by this company which is now in its 65th season. This work, first performed in 1881 was the sixth collaboration of William S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan. It’s a satire and parody of the aesthetic movement of the late nineteenth century and so the question is: Can a forgotten fad retain comedic relevance for modern audiences. Some companies have updated the setting and story but this new production retains the original plot line and plays it straight, not even updating the libretto with topical comments as is so often done in a Gilbert and Sullivan production. And yet it works as a light-hearted parody as it caricatures those who believe in art for art’s sake as the raison d’être.
As the curtain rose a set design by Peter Crompton featuring a stylized medieval castle and church with twenty love-sick maidens striking exaggerated clad in vibrantly colored faux-medieval gowns by Miriam Lewis/Melissa Wortman, took us directly to mid-Victorian romanticism. Previewing the main melodies of the operetta the delightful overture was played with precision by the members of the orchestra under the direction of David Möschler, whose conducting skills held pit and stage together only allowing the men’s chorus to get a little out of line at times. The two choruses reacted wonderfully to the actions of the lead characters and the playful and comic elements were milked for all they were worth. The casting of the main characters was spot on with a foppish F. Lawrence Ewing playing the willowy Reginald Bunthorne. His love interest, Patience, was delightfully portrayed by the silvery voiced Jennifer Mitchell who sparkled at every entrance. Her Irish accent was quite captivating. The imposing Lady Jane’s comic actions were well timed and her love-sick attempts at serenading Bunthorn with cello and cymbals was hilarious. As Bunthorn’s poetic competitor, Archibald Grosvenor, Samuel Faustine is sincere in his Prithee, pretty maiden. The patter songs are always a delight in Gilbert and Sullivan pieces and several of these were on show in Patience showing the wit of Gilbert’s lyrics with their crazy internal rhymes and juxtapositions – ‘This air sever is but a mere veneer’ and ‘But it’s not indigestion, it’s aesthetic transfiguration.’ Such lines, set to the melodiousness of Sullivan’s captivating music made for an utterly charming musical event.