PROVO — Gilbert and Sullivan are best known for their string of operettas written for producer Richard D’Oyly Carte. Thirteen works remain (the score of one having been lost in the mists of time) and one of their best is being produced as a directing project at BYU this week.
The Gondoliers follows a typical plot to many Gilbert and Sullivan shows: Two just-married Venetian gondoliers are informed by the Grand Inquisitor that one of them has just become the King of “Barataria,” but only their foster mother, presently at large, knows which one. As Barataria needs a king to put down unrest in the country, they travel there to reign jointly, leaving their wives behind in Venice until the old lady can be interviewed. It turns out that the king was wed in infancy to the beautiful daughter of the Spanish Duke of Plaza Toro, and so it seems he is an unintentional bigamist. However, the beautiful daughter is in love with a common servant. When the young Spaniard and the two Venetian wives all show up wanting to know which of them is queen, complications arise. No worries: The true identity of the king is revealed, and all is combed out spectacularly well by the end.
The roles of the two Gondoliers, Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri, are well-acted by Joseph Andrews and Hunter Brown, respectively. They both have charm and swagger as the most eligible of the city’s gondoliers. They both have fine voices and do exceptionally well in their duets, particularly the first act finale when they must each sing alternating snippets of lines. Mackenzie Young and Katie Goulding are very cute as their brides, Gianetta and Tessa. They acted their scenes very well, but their voices seemed a little light for the power needed for leads in a G&S show. I was most impressed by Carley Campbell as Casilda and George Hnatiuk as Luiz. These were the strongest performers of the evening with bright, clear voices and excellent acting chops. They stole the scenes when they were onstage and had great chemistry together.
The set design by Brent Robison was simple and portrayed well the settings of Venice and the court of Barataria. A personal favorite of the evening was, of course, the gondola! Costumes by Jocelyn Chatman were very well done, especially those of the Duke and Duchess of Plaza Toro and Casilda. The lighting design by Mariana Castro suffered a few hiccups with what seemed to be adjustments mid scene that had nothing to do with the action onstage. And kudos must be given to performance pianist Jesse Ellsworth. This is not an easy score to play and he followed the performers excellently.
Director Allison Black did a fine job with the resources she had, but I have to say that while I enjoyed the evening, it was a little disappointing. I know that this was a student directing project and likely the cast was recruited from friends and friends of friends (that always seemed the case in the directing project shows I was in in college). Although there were some very good performances, overall the production was just a little lack-luster. It was a smaller cast than is usually seen in G&S shows, and while most sang well, there were some weak singers in larger roles, and what dialog is given by chorus members was not given with much gusto. At least two songs (and rather well-known songs) were cut from this show (“There lived a king,” which was spoken rather than sung, and “In a contemplative fashion” which was cut entirely). This I found very disappointing, though they are difficult songs to do effectively. Gilbert and Sullivan is deceptively difficult and most productions skim the surface of the material. However, I applaud Black for sticking to the show and not trying to add too much, as is frequently done, to “boost” the humor.
In spite of my few misgivings, The Gondoliers is an enjoyable evening and worth the time to attend. If you have never seen this show, it is a great opportunity to become familiar with one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s finest shows. This is a fine production, but seems to have just missed its potential.