Forest Park hosts a rarely seen Gilbert & Sullivan gem

Forest Park hosts a rarely seen Gilbert & Sullivan gem
Photo by Merle Exit
By Merle Exit

When you think of Gilbert & Sullivan collaborations, the most likely candidates are usually the three most popular of their 14 works: “The Pirates of Penzance,” “The Mikado” and “H.M.S. Pinafore.” Perhaps the most well-known songs from those operettas, “I am the very model of a modern Major-General” (Pirates), “A Wandering Minstrel” (Mikado) and “Now Give Three Cheers” (Pinafore) may come to mind as well

However, your mind will most likely draw a blank at the mention of one of their lesser known works, “Iolanthe.”

Also known as “The Peer and Peri,” it focuses on the fairy Iolanthe who has been banished from fairlyland due to her marrying a mortal. Iolanthe’s son, Strephon, an Arcadian shepherd is interested in marrying Phyllis, who is a ward of Chancery.

“Iolanthe” was recently presented at Flushing Town Hall by the Gilbert & Sullivan Light Opera Company of Long Island, with the troupe’s CEO, Michael Economos, portraying the Lord Chancellor. A free 5 p.m. outdoor performance will take place Sunday at Forest Park’s George Seuffert Bandshell.

Why was this unknown piece chosen? “It goes back to age of 13 when I was skipping around the stage in a black robe and white wig at the Brooklyn Friends School,” Economous said.

This is the plot in a nutshell. It seems that, in addition to Strephon, all of the members of the House of Peers want to marry Phyllis. Phyllis happens to see Strephon hugging a young woman, not knowing that she is his mother, as immortal fairies always appear young. Assuming the worst, she sets off a confrontation between the peers and the fairies. “Iolanthe” is really a satire on many aspects of the British government, society and law, one of Gilbert’s favorite themes.

The production has come together through the efforts of director and choreographer Brenda Santana, musical director Lily Grehan and conductor Valerie Grehan, who leads the musical ensemble while costumed as a fairy.

As a non-profit organization, the company is composed of a mixture of professionals and amateurs. But the quality of the perfomances was quite consistent.

“For our leads, we obviously audition and select the best talent – that is our goal,” said Economous. “Often these players are a mix of devoted Gilbert & Sullivan aficionados and up-and-coming talent. We like to think of ourselves as an incubator for future stars as they go on to bigger and better things! We’ve had many wonderful performers pass through our company.

“Our chorus is generally open to anyone who is willing to devote their time and efforts.”