Review: ‘Patience’ opera a fun, but confusing, production

This review of “Patience” at KU Opera was submitted by Megan Helm, an educator and musician.The Kansas University Opera production of “Patience,” which opened Friday at Swarthout Hall in Murphy Hall, was an entertaining romp filled with witty characterizations and over the top mayhem.Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are notoriously melodramatic, and “Patience” is no exception. The opera department chose to set this particular piece at KU in the 1920s, where a chorus of greek maidens, ala Chi Omega or Kappa Kappa Gamma, pose and pursue the fleshly poet, Reginald. Their former beaus, members of the KU football team, are confused and upset that all of their girlfriends prefer the pretentious, albeit very pretty, Reginald although his heart is held by another. We are told at the beginning of the performance that it is set in Old West Lawrence in the 1920s. However, nowhere in the set is this evident. The lovely backdrop depicts an art deco sun, there is a small bridge and a few wicker benches and an arbor of artificial trees spread about the background, but there are no Victorian houses or much else to suggest Kansas. The costumes are the main feature to this new interpretation. The football players are adorable in their KU letterman sweaters and scarves. They sound fantastic in chorus, which may be attributed to the very find men’s glee club KU still supports. But many questions of time and place continue to plague the production.Reginald, played by Lane Johnson, prances about the stage in a becoming black bob, purple velvet waistcoat and frilly white shirt and skirt with black leggings. Followed by a bevy of beauties clad in blue Grecian robes, Reginald smirks and soaks in the adulation. His heart is taken by the simple, Southern Milkmaid, Patience. In typical Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, her heart is set on another and madcap antics ensue. Standout performances include the very fine tenor Ben Cleveland as Colonel Calverley, the lovely mezzo of Lady Angela played by Catherine Ratliff and the ridiculous vocal interpretation of Dustin Peterson who plays Lieut, the Duke of Dunstable, with cartoon like appeal. Soprano Amy Cahill did an admirable job playing the simple Patience, as did her love interest, the unconsciously conceited poet Archibald Grosvenoor, played by Joseph Hager.The highlight of the production for this reviewer was Kristee Haney, as the plain Lady Jane, who effortlessly played the self-important diva to perfection. Her solo, with cellist Jesse Henkensiefken coming up from the pit, at the beginning of Act II was full of expressive annoyance and disdain. The orchestrations by KU composer Michalis Koutsoupides were very good giving the production the right nostalgic, tin pan alley-esque feeling. In order to fit the patter songs into the new interpretations many of them were completely re-written to comic effect. Unfortunately, the overused political references to Palin, Biden and Obama added a 21-century element to a 19th-century operetta set in the beginning of the 20th century. This performance is perfect for teenagers, college students and anyone else interested in a light-hearted night out.Additional performances are at 7:30 tonight, 2:30 Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Friday and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14.