A perfectly complex operetta

Published March 9, 2007

Of all the works by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, the operetta Utopia Limited or the Flowers of Progress is probably performed the least.

That's probably because of the size of the cast - up to 40 people - and the number of elaborate costumes, said Jamie Bierchen, the force behind the local Gilbert & Sullivan Players and frequent performer in and director of the shows.

"Everyone in the show has at least two costumes," he said.

The scarcity of performances may also have something to do with the show's darkly cynical view of government, even though it is cheerily obscured by the twittering romances between various characters and chirpy singing of the chorus.

Despite the challenges, Bierchen and his sizable cast are doing Utopia March 16-25 at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center.

So many people auditioned for the show that six of the main roles were double-cast to give a dozen eager players a chance to perform significant parts.

The story takes place in the 1860s on the mythical South Sea island of Utopia, where King Paramount (Bruce Taylor) supposedly reigns supreme. In reality, he is completely controlled by two judges of the Utopian Supreme Court, the wily Phantis (John Smith and John Bierchen) and Scaphio (Mitch Levine and Jamie Bierchen), who have the power to have the king blown up by Tarara, the Public Exploder (Rick Bronson, Eric Weber), if the king displeases them.

King Paramount decides that he wants to turn his little kingdom into a perfect society based, of course, on that most perfect of societies, England.

He hires the English governess Lady Sophy (Sara Buckley) for his two youngest daughters, Princess Nikaya (Lauren Weber, Katherine Grace) and Princess Kalyba (Julie Krauss, Lauren Bronson). He then sends his eldest daughter, Princess Zara (Susan Carr), to school in England.

Princess Zara returns five years later, bringing with her six members of the English elite, called "The Flowers of Progress," who will instruct the islanders in the ways of their land.

They do such a good job that there are no more wars, no filth to cause illness, and no poverty or greed to cause crime - which puts the army, navy, doctors, police and lawyers out of work and wrecks the economy.

At that point, Princess Zara remembers that political parties cause so much turmoil and dissent that all peace and progress ends.

The out-of-work soldiers, health workers and law enforcement officers once more become essential, the economy is saved and everyone is happy again.

The show is close to three hours long, Bierchen said.

If you go

Gilbert & Sullivan's 'Utopia Limited'

Where: Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center, 324 Pine St.

When: 8 p.m. March 16, 17, 22 and 24 (not 23) and at 2 p.m. March 18 and 25.

Tickets: $16 adults; $14 for center members and students. Call (727) 942-5605.