“Corporations are people!” may be current, but the concept of limited legal exposure and a certain degree of personhood in the organization of business was the subject of the penultimate collaboration between W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. In Utopia, Limited, or The Flowers of Progress, which premiered in October 1893, Zara, the daughter of the King of Utopia, returns to the languid island of opium eaters with notions of English culture and civilization that she helps impose upon her father’s subjects, having brought back with her six “Flowers of Progress,” who instruct the populace in the British way. Although the Durham Savoyards Ltd.’s production of Utopia, Limited satirizes 19th century Imperial Britain one can easily recognize 21st century U.S. contentions as well. The evergreen nature of politics.
The curtain rises on a luscious, simple set: a tropical island adorned with only a couple of ominously painted palms, and a second level, three steps upstage which serves multiple uses, and a scrim that changes hues and intensities for effect. The stage is slowly filled with the inhabitants of Utopia, singing of being “In Lazy Languor Motionless … in Lazyland.” The set by director and choreographer Derrick Ivey and Bobby Cameron is then changed only by the exquisite lighting of Jenni Becker. The show’s costumes — colorful sarongs for the island women, patterned clamdiggers and long shirts for the men, formal attire for the British muckety mucks, and stylish period gowns for the royal women and the English Governess — are all beautifully designed by Diane Woodard.
The multitalented Derrick Ivey has created the familiar style of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Savoy Operas, with quick paced, tightly knit dancers circling one another and weaving amongst themselves. Musically supporting this fine cast is the excellent Durham Savoy Opera Orchestra, under the baton of Alan Riley Jones.
King Paramount the First, King of Utopia, and a very fine king, indeed, is played by Jim Burnette as amiable and vivacious, with a fine voice and a noble demeanor. Scaphio and Phantis, who together comprise the Supreme Court of the land, are well represented by Stuart Albert and Steve Dobbins. These two obviously have great fun playing the two venal rascals, and make them endearing despite their human foibles.
Messrs. Dobbins and Albert make up a kind of trio with Tarara (yes, as in “tarara boomdeay,” )the Public Exploder, whose sole duty is to explode the King when the Supreme Court Judges “denounce him,” portrayed by Chris Newlon with fervor and a mock pompousness. Kathleen Jasinskas sings and acts her way into our hearts as Zara, the king’s eldest daughter. She has a lovely, lyrical voice and full-bodied expressiveness.
The Lady Sophy, English Governante, and the apple of the King’s eye, is artfully performed by Alana Sealy, also the possessor of a magnificent singing voice. Zara’s younger twin sisters, Princess Nekaya and Princess Kalyba, are played charmingly by Mary Elisabeth Hirsh and Lauren Hussy, respectively, whose enactment of proper little English girls in “Although of Native Maids the Cream” and “Then I May Sing and Play,” is delightful, especially their managing to escape the clutches of two randy English Lords in the latter.
Mitchener Howell is just perfect as Captain Fitzbattleaxe, of the First Life Guards, who has been romancing Zara in their ride across the ocean. His military poise smooth and authoritative, and his courting of her smooth and tender. He sings several duets with her that are ringingly commendable, and we especially enjoyed his solo “A Tenor, All Singers Above.”
Dan Mason is impeccable as Lord Dramaleigh, the British Lord Chamberlain who is one of the “Flowers of Progress”. Mason’s movements and gestures are filled with the appropriate pomp and prestige, accompanied by a well-trained voice.
The chorus is full and melodic, mingling dance with song and energy with feeling. They are all notable, but Mary Guy is outstanding in her solo in the opening number.
This fine show only runs this weekend, with performances 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday at The Carolina Theatre of Durham, so you need to get tickets right away else you’ll miss it.
The Durham Savoyards Ltd. present UTOPIA, LIMITED, or The Flowers of Progress at 8 p.m. March 27 and 28 and 2 p.m. March 29 in Fletcher Hall at The Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
Carolina Theatre Box Office: 888-241-8162, 919-560-3030, or http://www.carolinatheatre.org/tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/114779/1803542.
SHOW: http://www.durhamsavoyards.org/current/, http://www.carolinatheatre.org/events/utopia-limited, and https://www.facebook.com/events/312596782275987/.
PRESENTER: http://www.durhamsavoyards.org/, https://www.facebook.com/durhamsavoyards, and https://twitter.com/durhamsavoyards.
DIRECTOR’S BLOG (by Derrick Ivey): https://derrickivey.wordpress.com/.
VENUE: http://www.carolinatheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaTheatreDurham, and https://twitter.com/CarolinaDurham.
Utopia, Limited, or The Flowers of Progress (1893 comic opera): http://diamond.boisestate.edu/gas/utopia/html/ (Gilbert & Sullivan Archive at Boise State University) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopia,_Limited (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.pittsburghsavoyards.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/PghSavoyards_Utopia_studyguide_2014.pdf (Pittsburgh Savoyards).
Gilbert & Sullivan: http://diamond.boisestate.edu/gas/ (Gilbert & Sullivan Archive) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_and_Sullivan (Wikipedia).
William S. Gilbert (librettist): http://wsgilbert.co.uk/ (W.S. Gilbert Society) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._S._Gilbert (Wikipedia).
Arthur S. Sullivan (composer): http://www.sullivansociety.org.uk/ (Sir Arthur Sullivan Society) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Sullivan (Wikipedia).
Derrick Ivey (artistic director and choreographer): https://derrickivey.wordpress.com/ (director’s blog).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.