Princess Ida is unusual among the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. It is, for instance, the only one inspired by the work of an author other than Gilbert himself -- Tennyson, as it happens. It is the only one by the collaborators structured in three acts. As against its previous productions of this operetta, when a single intermission was created by chopping Act II in two, the Madison Savoyards this time honors the work's own format, with two intermissions (UW Music Hall, through Aug. 3).
Beyond all that, Princess Ida has simply lagged greatly in popularity among the G&S shows. This is a pity. Its story, which spoofs the idea of women's education (with added jibes at Darwinian evolution), may not fit today's sensibilities, but the plot is full of the collaborators' verbal wit and wonderful music.
For this production, Savoyards exerts itself mightily, and with entertaining success. To be sure, there are signs of strain. There is an unusually large number of roles, and this cast is vocally uneven, despite the fact (as cast bios suggest) that quite a number of the performers have considerable experience in musical theater. In the title role, Naiza Delica offers very strong soprano singing of professional quality, but does not always get the words out clearly. Weak diction also plagues the pleasant-voiced William Ottow, in the tenor role of Ida's suitor, Hilarion. Of his two comrades, Steven Groth is a splendidly voiced Florian, while the characterful Cyril, Patrick Chounet, has almost no singing voice at all.
In the role of King Gama, one of the greatest of the G&S patter-song characters, Don Dexter surprises me with a demonstration that it can actually be overplayed. In the transformation of the G&S type, the love-starved contralto, into a power-hungry lady, Rachael Bishop is successful in verbal flair, but lacks the vocal heft to convey the character's pretentious pushiness. Jim Ciolino, as the spokesman among King Gama's three dumbbell-warrior sons, is likewise vocally strained, though comically apt.
And so it goes. But the chorus is strong (especially the women, who seriously outnumber the men) and is generally admirable in the all-important matter of diction.
Conductor Grant Harville, by now a seasoned Savoyards maestro, keeps things running smoothly. There were a few missed cues opening night, which should be resolved through the run, and Dexter constantly let his rhythms run askew. But the overall musical level works out to good effect.
The strongest points of the production are visual. Stage director Audrey Lauren Wax has created a production of constant movement that is full of vitality, with particularly good use of gesture. Her only mistake is introducing irrelevant pairs of dancers during Hilarion's Act I solo, which is not only unfair scene-stealing but is also distracting from the narrative point of his song. Otherwise, choreographer Kristin Roling participated in devising consistently handsome dance movement. That contributes to the comic ensembles and funny business, which comes off hilariously.
Rachel Frederick has designed a unit set with very cleverly moveable parts. The one weak link, however, is the overwrought lighting imposed by R. Ryan Hendricks, which changes with manic frequency.
On the whole, I would say that this is not among the top Savoyards productions, but it is a serviceable and enjoyable one, and gratitude is due for allowing the public to enjoy this unfairly neglected operetta.