If everyone in the Gilbert and Sullivan (G. and S.) Players' fall production of The Gondoliers were just a little bit louder and clearer, the show could be not just charming and entertaining, as it is now, but amazing also. The Gondoliers is already opening night after night to sold-out crowds, but all those crowds deserve something a little more whole-hearted and fast-paced--something completely attainable simply by cranking up the volume, speaking more clearly and hamming it up a little more. Gilbert and Sullivan is sophisticated humor, yes, but we get the jokes; we just can't hear them.
(Note to the orchestra: although the singers are the focus of the operetta, you are in no way exempt from this urging to pump up the volume: you're a moderatesized band that sounds equally wonderful playing cheery patter accompaniment or swoony love-arias, but can the second-guessed entrances and just go for it.)
Aside from simple increased audience enjoyment, this need for enunciation is vital to any production of Gilbert and Sullivan: the story of the operetta, in true G. and S. style, is a convoluted tale of mistaken identities and star-crossed lovers that can only be understood when it is clearly and resoundingly sung by its main players. To summarize: it seems that years ago the Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro had promised their daughter Casilda to an infant heir who was subsequently kidnapped but later found to be living as a gondolier in Venice. The operetta opens as the Duke and Duchess bring their daughter to Venice to claim her husband, only to find that not only is no one sure which of two gondoliers (Marco or Guiseppe) is the actual heir, but also that both men have already gotten married. To make matters worse, Casilda is passionately in love with Luiz, the lowly drummer-boy of the Duke and Duchess and cares nothing for her predestined husband. The operetta is spent unraveling all this insanity and making sure everyone ends up happily with the person they truly love, as conveyed by various "patter" songs--bouncy, often silly songs with rapid-fire tongue-twister limerics.
This speedy "patter," which is at the heart of all of the famed British duo's operettas, is effective only when it's done clearly and loudly. From the looks of it, all the singers in The Gondoliers seemed perfectly capable of spinning out line after line of patter-talk; they just weren't loud enough. Seth Fenton '01 as The Duke of Plaza-Toro seemed to have the "patter" down perfectly (try saying "celebrated, cultivated, underrated Nobleman" five times at breakneck speed and in tune), and his entire court (he, the Duchess, Casilda and Luiz) was pretty adept at dishing out the tongue-tying lyrics.
The gondolieri and their lovely contadine brides, however, leave something to be desired. Although seeming to understand the carefree pitter-patter spirit of the show with their twirling skirts and appropriately suggestive smiles, this band of love-stricken Venetians could use a little more "cha-cha" in their "Cachucha" dance, and once again, a few more lessons in being louder and more boisterous. Maneuvering 16 singers (Marco, Guiseppe, their wives and 12 of their closest friends) around the tiny Agassiz stage is difficult and requires clockwork choreography and impeccably-enunciated singing, but this cast has the potential to make it work.
Of the leads among the Venetians, New England Conservatory first-year Stephen Beaudoin fares well as the cheerily optimistic and slightly dopey gondolier Marco, his fairly hearty (but once again too quiet) singing matched with an eye for physical comedy. Krishnan Unnikrishnan '02 is equally endearing and doltish as Giuseppe, fellow gondolier and possible heir-to-the-throne. Unnikrishnan hams it up remarkably well with lots of giggly smirks and "Aw, shucks" glances, but at times this silliness comes out as slightly effeminate camp--manly gondolieri do not typically bat their eyelashes when they're being serenaded by a lovely contadine. The two lead "lovely contadine" in this production are both well-chosen for their roles. Cary Rosko sings the part of Tessa (Giuseppe's wife) loudly and down-right charmingly, although she could stand to be a little more silly (this is Gilbert and Sullivan, after all), like her compatriot Julie Quenlan, a graduate student at the New England Conservatory who is delightfully over-the-top as the giggly and giddy wife of Marco, Gianetta.
Speaking of lovely characters, Alison Walla, a first-year at Boston University, wins the award for "Best Performance in the Role of a Lovely but Airheaded Infanta." Walla is not only an entrancing and sweet-throated singer (when she is--you guessed it--being loud enough), but also a superb actress who manages to portray the beautiful ingenue (wrapped up in faux Venetian lace get-ups) with just the right amount of whiny, aristocratic empty-headedness.
Set designer Peter Miller '84 wins the "Best Set This Campus Has Seen In A While" award with his meticulously detailed but never overpowering scenery. Miller showcases his Broadway-perfected skills with a fairly accurate replica of parts of the Doge's Palace in Venice and a romantic Venetian thoroughfare back-drop, complete with moving gondolas and steamships--a charming if slightly chintzy effect.
"Best Actor in a Supporting Role" goes to both veteran Fenton and new-comer Lee Poulis '02 as Don Alhambra, the Grand Inquisitor. Fenton carries off the part of the enterprising, officious windbag with the perfect amount of dull pomposity and cornball silliness and is matched by Kristin Brouwer in the part of the saucy but snotty, Duchess. Poulis mixes equal parts stodgy bureaucrat, fiendish Inquisitor and lecherous old man to take the typical Gilbert and Sullivan "uptight official" role to new, uproariously deadpan heights.
The Gilbert and Sullivan Players have been doing their corny but enjoyable thing for so long that one expects a solid show. The cast of The Gondoliers has shown that with a little more "oomph," they can not only meet all those expectations but also exceed them