Alice Zhou and Henry Etzkowitz
Lamplighters Trial by Jury is a triumphal flow of powerful ensemble performance. The plot, ridiculous and ironic; yet also serious and realistic: featuring a gentleman who jilted his fiancée, the jilted bride-to-be and her bridesmaids, a pontificating foreman and a lecherous judge who eschews deliberation, enters into the action, proposes marriage and embraces the plaintiff. Trial takes the audience in its grip and does not let go even after apparent consummation of a tangled plot, through follow up of the jurors entangled fate in Trial by Jury Duty.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s early collaboration, a musical satire of the British legal system, and the Lamplighters extension of the original, reprising a fundraising anachronism for the first time as part of a regular program, are perfectly aligned. If you have ever wondered what happens to the characters in a hihgly popular favorite book or motion picture, contemporary filmmakers and publishers will let you know with prequels and sequels galore, a la Star Wars and Harry Potter. But if you are a late 19th century classic one acter you may wait in vain. Such was the case until Lamplighters, the Bay areas successor to the Original Doyly Carte purveyors of the delightful duos musical satrical oeuvre, channelled the original format in a Fundraiser spoof, with contemporary content such as refernces to Victoria’s Secret and a lawyerly Americanism to complete a rhyme.
Trial by Jury Duty subverts the relationship between the original characters and their destiny. Returning to humanity and showing unexpected turns, the play is full of sunshine and romance. The stage art very well matches the changes in theme. The former is a court scene, while the second a mansion scene out of Upstairs Downstairs, with an hilarious tour led by aristocrats, who in reality, typically disappear from the scene when their unseen scene is opened to the public. In addition, the staging shows a rich terrain with different heights and distances. In places where it is impossible to show ups and downs, everyone skips or almost trips, adding fun and attention.
There is a perfect combination of costumes, music, stage props, lighting, and the voice of the singers is also so impressive.The clothing not only reflects the charm of the era but also captures its ridicuuous excess, especially the costume of Mrs. Danville, cumbersome, weird and mysterious. Overall, clothing and makeup are very helpful in highlighting the characteristics of the main features of the work. Each actors features displayed their character to advantage, especially the Learned Judge (by F. Lawrence Ewing), Angelina (by Jennifer Ashworth) and Mrs. Danville (by Michael Grammer).
The pairing has the virtue of making a full evening, with the original one act Trial promising “to be continued” after the audience returns from intermission. The first author preferred the Lamplighters original over the Gilbert and Sullivan original, a second author favorite. It changed the perception of a Learned Judge with a comic ending. Even if Angelina proved to be neither Judge’s daughter nor his wife, she found her mother, in a mind bending resolution. In a unique feature of each Lamplighter, performance, the actors file into the lobby, in costume, after the last applause dies down to interact with the audience. The actors get a lot of affirmation, beyond what they receive on stage, exemplifying the performer/ audience Lamplighter community. Jennifer Ashworth has performed as a Lamplighter since 2001: she did a great job as usual although her voice was a little hoarse.
Our over all impression is of a fun evening for all at Thursday evening’s opening of the dual bill at Mountain View’s Perfoming Arts Center, en route to Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts and San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theatre.
More information at Lamplighters Music Theatre website Welcome
Photos: Joe Giammarco