More than once, people have come up to me on the street and said of Timothy Swazey (rhymes with "crazy") Mayer, director and choreographer of this amazing production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Utopia Limited, or The Flowers of Progress,--more than once, they have said:
"To know him is to love him."
Before last night I could never put my finger on just why that was true. Now it is clear. T. Swazey Mayer lives in the spirit of Gilbert and Sullivan.
He has puffed Utopia, Limitedinto the brightest, most bouyant, and most opulent Gilbert and Sullivan balloon I have seen.
He has had superb assistance. Producer Herbert J. Motley, Jr., must have coughed up a tubercular amount of cash to pay for Lewis H. Smith's dazzlingly varied, fresh, and luxurious costumes. The colorful, lively stage settings of Marjorie Ingalls and William S. Carter turned the vast desert of the Loeb main stage into the intimate oasis G&S fans remember the Agassiz stage to have been. The Adams House Lighting Society, in addition to ordinary competence, supplied some extra effects which I will not spoil by recounting here.
But what did this fellow Swazey Mayer do? He strewed the opening scene with lovely, halfnaked things (girls, in case that leaves any ambiguity for the Allen Ginsberg set). For every occasion and for every character he created dances that showed the genetic influence of vaudeville, the Charleston, the Hasty Pudding, and Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev. By some particularly brilliant stroke, he cast John Lithgow as Paramount the First, King of Utopia.
As a despot, John Lithgow comes on weak. His voice is distinguished neither for its volume nor timbre on first hearing. Yet that voice proves wondrously appropriate for Utopia's dynamitable despotism; if the king commits any improprieties, the Public Exploder will blow him up.
The Public Exploder (Mark Bramhall) and the two wise men who watched for royal abuses (Daniel Goodenough, Michael Sargent) made a delightful, villainous trio. The remainder of the absurdly large cast (numbering 17, plus a chorus of 26) was inspired.
The performance of the music, however, was awful. By some boobery within the theatrical community, the G&S orchestra had to compete for players with Cosi Fan Tutte. It lost.
Suggestions for Mr. Raymond W. Donnell, musical director: Tune the orchestra. Hire another violinist, you're getting your money's worth out of the one I could hear. Tell the actors not to watch you, but to listen to the orchestra (this should increase co-ordination of singers and orchestra, and improve the acting). Ask Miss Janet Walker, who has the best voice in the cast, to sing in English, not Utopian. And tune the orchestra.
With these improvements, Timothy S. Mayer's Utopia, Limited, will be close to perfect and I will have to go see it again.