Theater review | 'Utopia, Limited' is delightfully absurd Victorian satire
Theater review: The Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society stages "Utopia, Limited," a G&S musical that must be the most fun limited liability corporations have ever had on stage; playing July 10-25, 2009 at Bagley Wright Theatre at Seattle Center.
Special to The Seattle Times
"Utopia, Limited"Plays through Thursdays-Saturdays through July 25, produced by the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society at the Bagley Wright Theatre, Seattle Center, 155 Mercer St., Seattle; $12-$32 (206-341-9612 or www.pattersong.org).
Theater Review |
There's nothing quite so happily incongruous as gazing at a tropical tableaux while basking in grand melodies by Arthur Sullivan.
The picture-postcard opening of Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society's "Utopia, Limited," on stage at Seattle Rep's Bagley Wright Theatre, finds a dozen or so comely island girls in sultry repose against a backdrop of palm trees, blue-blue sky and a calm ocean. Meanwhile, Bernard Kwiram's orchestra takes an instrumental tour of majestically witty music from this rarely produced comic opera by composer Sullivan and librettist W.S. Gilbert — the 13th, and penultimate, collaboration of Gilbert & Sullivan, which was first staged in 1893.
This balmy — in every sense — introduction to "Utopia" only hints at absurdities to come in the late-Victorian era work, dense with Gilbert's perennial, satirical preoccupation with English institutions, royal scandals, imperialism and mores.
In "Utopia," Gilbert's first collaboration with Sullivan following a two-year dispute, Gilbert was particularly agitated over changing financial practices in England. "Utopia, Limited" skewers limited-liability companies whose owners were protected from unpaid debt via bankruptcy. While that might sound like a dull evening of musical comedy, "Utopia" is no more didactic than a Marx Brothers movie. Yet it projects dismay at lawful abdication of fiscal responsibility — making "Utopia" unusually timely in this era of corporate bailouts.
The show's setting, the South Pacific island kingdom of Utopia, is about as far from London as a story can get. Yet England is present in spirit. A benign monarch named King Paramount (KIRO radio's Dave Ross, a 20-year veteran performer for the Seattle G&S Society) narrowly rules Utopia, his power offset by untrustworthy Wise Men (William J. Darkow, Scott Bessho) and a crazed bomber (Rob Martin) who can legally blow him up.
Looking for change, Paramount turns Anglophile. A strict governess (Carla Hilderbrand) sets new standards for excessive propriety at an increasingly English-looking court.
More importantly, Paramount's oldest daughter, Princess Zara (Jennifer Elise Hauge), returns from a British college with experts who transform Utopia — and each of its citizens, as well as the king — into limited-liability corporations. Suddenly, Utopians have profit potential and immunity from their actions.
The results displease once happily brain-dead, beach-dwelling Utopians. But they also evoke familiar plaints of modern conservatives and liberals: too much bureaucracy, not enough checks and balances. The solution for Utopia is a classic reflection of Gilbert's sardonic brilliance.
The ensemble cast, directed by Kwiram (music) and Christine Goff (stage), sounds wonderful, dances with engaging good humor, and occupies the production's two superb and pleasing sets with what can only be called epic silliness. Ross, a crowd favorite, nails Paramount's twinkling despotism without a trace of irony.
The nonprofit amateur Seattle G&S Society puts on one or another Gilbert & Sullivan show each July. They last did "Utopia, Limited" in 1991; catch it while you can.
Tom Keogh: email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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