One usually attends a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta with a mild case of dread, hoping that at the very least it will be moderately well sung and not too reverentially stuffy in its staging.
Gallery Players recent production of The Gondoliers, however, was one of those revelatory experiences that jolt one's expectations and perceptions with a delightfully shocking sense of discovery, much as Wilford Leach's inventive re-examination of The Pirates of Penzance did 20 years ago.
Make no mistake about it, Pamela Seiderman's superb production stayed firmly in period and took no untoward liberties with the familiar old warhorse. What made it all work so beautifully was the sly sense of fun, the refreshing sense of wonder, and the heady sensuality that infused the entire evening. Seiderman, with her gifted cast and crew, approached the work as if it were newly written and consequently provided a production that gave the impression of a newly minted musical of unusually high quality. Gilbert's gently stinging satire, complete with interpolated topical political references, remained ever-fresh, while Sullivan's enchanting score was sung with ravishing vocal clarity and impeccable musicianship.
Micah Freedman and John Congdon, perfectly paired with Laura Kay Swanson and Kathleen Clancy, made for earthily appealing Gondoliers and their mates; Barry Ford was a lovably lisping Duke of Pla(tha)-Toro, Gail Shaefer (lips permanently pursed) was a dizzy delight as his Duchess, and Donald Purdy was a scene-stealing scream as the Grand Inquisitor. Leah Horowitz made a stunning Casilda, her voice, poise, and comic timing an exultant example of musical comedy perfection, and she was matched every step of the way by the charmingly hapless Luiz of Jonathan Talmadge. These two, along with Freedman, Congdon, Swanson, and Clancy, generated a true sense of sexual heat and frustration that was as alluringly provocative as it was breathlessly funny.
Matt Allar's simple, impressionistic sets, Peter D. Leonard's colorful lighting and Sara Jean Tosetti's rich period costumes were a feast for the eyes; Peter Yarin's astute musical direction made the production a feast for the ears as well. And if Kevin Wallace's choreography wasn't flashily inventive, it worked well enough to showcase those who could move, and more importantly, to disguise the weaknesses of those who couldn't.
Gallery Players, whose long history of quality work qualified them for a special OOBR Award for Lifetime Achievement last season, continue to amaze. This glittering production of The Gondoliers was yet another win for the troupe - crisp, fresh, and funny - and absolutely, to paraphrase from another G&S operetta, the very model of a modern major musical.
(Also featuring Nathan Andersen, Jeffrey Beaudoin, Kristen Beil, Alan Berman, Amy Ehnstrom, Michael Ross Favazzo, Kristen Anne Ferraro, Anthony Grinnage, Gary Hess, Staci Anne Jacobs, Jennifer Leedom, Nalina Mann, Michael Morisi, Allison Scott, Kelly Vivian.)
Writing: (Book, Music, Lyrics) 2
Musical Direction: 2
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita