The In Series’ production of Who’s the Boss? is a fusion of two comic operettas, Giovanni Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial By Jury, re-imagined as companion pieces though they were written over a hundred years apart. In writer and Director Nick Olcott’s playful production, the two pieces are set in early-1900’s England and linked together through the age-old themes of love and a desire to win.
In La Serva Padrona, or The Servant Mistress, Lord Hubert (Andrew Adelsberger) struggles with his opinionated maid, Serpinia, who decides one day that she wants to marry him. With a mixture of coquettish charm and trickery, beautifully captured by Annie Gill, Serpinia attempts to woo a steadily weakening Lord Hubert. Gill handles the rollercoaster range from high to low of Pergolesi’s score with aplomb, while Adelsberger’s rich, resonant bass glides through arias (“Oh what a fix this is I’m in”) and pattering duets alike, making Hubert more than a match for Serpinia. Adelsberger’s gift for comedic timing is matched only by that of Waspton (Alex Alburqueque), the manservant who remains silent until the last part of the play but nevertheless acts as a foil to Hubert.
Trial By Jury, one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s earliest satirical collaborations, tells the somewhat ridiculous story of a jilted bride, Angelina (Emma Gwin) who is now suing her former suitor for breach of contract. In spite of their claims to the contrary, the jury appear to be biased in favor of Angelina from the beginning, and feel an almost religious adoration of the judge presiding over the trial—singing “All hail, great Judge.” Lew Freeman portrays the surprisingly agile judge with a commitment that sells even the character’s silliest moments.
Gwin’s Angelina knows how to make an entrance, and kept me riveted with her mixture of dramatic swoons, coy flirtation with the entire room, and a voice that sails through Gilbert and Sullivan’s famously fast-paced score. Samual Keeler portrays her rival, Edwin, with a roguish charm that keeps the audience laughing, aided by his counselor in another appearance by Alex Alburqueque. David Wolff plays the passionate Counselor for the Plaintiff with laugh-out-loud fervor. In an addition by writer and Director Nick Olcott, Hubert and Serpinia reappear in this act as a married court reporter and usher, adding their own frivolity to this satire of court proceedings.
Jonathan D. Robertson’s set is in the round, a simple tiled path going in three directions, a patch of lawn in the middle, and the orchestra in full view of the audience throughout the show. Few set pieces bog down the set, which Olcott uses to his full advantage as master and servant literally chase each other in circles in Act I.
In Act II, the jury and Edwin’s Beloved (made up of Sean Pflueger, CJ David, Christian Rhode, Renae Erichsen-Teal, Chris Herman, and Lauren Randolph, respectively) often leave their designated area in tightly choreographed sequences designed to heighten the absurdity of these court proceedings.
Robert Croghan’s bright, early 20th-century costumes (including, of course, wigs for members of the court) lend an air of gaiety to the production. Lighting Designer Katie McCreary’s designs provide a sunny-day feeling to this production, shining in particular during Hubert’s inner struggle in “Oh what a fix this is I’m in!” when the lights make it appear as though otherworldly voices are giving him advice.
Finally, Conductor Joseph Walsh and his chamber ensemble unite these stylistically different scores in this night of comic and musical brilliance that keeps audiences laughing until the very end.
You don’t need to be a die-hard opera lover to enjoy the musical madness of The In Series’ Who’s the Boss?.
Running Time: One hour and fifty minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Who’s the Boss? has four more performances through September 25, 2016, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center—1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the Atlas box office at (202) 399-7993, or purchase them online.