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Review: G&S Mounts Engaging ‘Gondoliers’

By Patrick D. Blanchfield, Crimson Staff Writer

The Gondoliers

Agassiz Theater, December 4-13

Directed by Leigh Shapiro

Music Directed by Felicia M. Sonmez ’05

Produced by Kristel C.Q. Leow ’04

The Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players’ production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, which went up in the Agassiz this weekend, is splendidly silly fun. The G&S players have mounted an enthusiastic production of this lighthearted, picaresque tale of confused marriages, exchanges at birth and exotically-coutured, pole-pushing boat drivers. To pull the show off, they draw upon considerable vocal and acting talent, fine musical accompaniment and an infectious topsy-turvy zeal.

The Gondoliers has a plot that the drunker among us might find a trifle complicated: a pair of happy-go-lucky gondoliers, Marco (Phillipe Pierce) and Giuseppe (G. Cross Woodfield ’06), each marry a flower-toting Contadina—Gianetta (Caroline E. Jackson ’06) and Tessa (Maria Alu), respectively. The couples’ nuptial bliss is thrown into doubt when it is revealed that one of them—no one can say which for sure—may be the heir to the Kingdom of Barataria. The heir among them was transplanted to Venice at birth—but not before being engaged to the lovely Casilda (Cambridge Riley), the daughter of the Spanish Duke of Plazatoro (Jim Luiz). However, Casilda is now in love with Luiz (Dan A. Spitzer ’05), and the possibility of marrying otherwise fills her with as much consternation as it does any of the other four young lovers.

Along the way to the fortuitous denouement, there is much silliness and song, and the cast does a fine job with both the singing and silliness. Both of the gondoliers acquit themselves quite well, although Pierce’s fabulous voice and grand acting style (oh, does he smile!) is uniquely remarkable. Also delightful—and dazzlingly talented—are Alu and Jackson; when they combine with their husbands for their “In a Contemplative Fashion” number, the entertainment reaches a pinnacle (director Leigh Shapiro deserves some credit for this, too). Bo Meng ’06, as Spanish Grand Inquisitor Don Alhambra, projects with fantastic clarity—even accounting for the Ag’s miserable acoustics, his song “I Stole The Prince” is great—and he demonstrates a keen grasp of physical comedy. Luiz, in a quintessentially G&S role, gets many a laugh, and acts alongside the dynamically voiced Andrea Coleman, who turns in a hilarious performance as the Duchess. In a lesser role, Riley turns in a solid job; his duet with Luiz, “There Was a Time”, is quite poignant.

The orchestration sounds professional and interfaces well with the singing; Felicia M. Sonmez ’05, the production’s musical director, deserves considerable credit. The set—Venice reinterpreted as a forest of candy-cane mooring poles with clotheslines of striped gondolieri shirts hanging out to dry in between—produces vertigo in the most whimsical way possible. Alan Symonds’ lighting work, with the assistance of Hana R. Alberts ’06—who is also a Crimson editor—is quite good. Costume work by Naomi E. Straus ’04 and Abigail K. Joseph ’04 is also solid.

The G&S Players are an institution, and audiences who see one of their shows should prepare for a theatrical experience unlike most at Harvard. As with any G&S show, there are unevenesses, and the stage talent quickly and clearly stratifies: Alu, Meng, Jackson, Coleman and particularly Pierce have voices and stage presences of a cut manifestly above the remainder of the ensemble. Given the diversity of singers’ theatrical backgrounds, this is only to be expected; what made Saturday’s performance surprising, however, was how well the entire cast held its own. The choruses are professional, and the more minor roles are played with talent and verve. In the end, the thread linking all the on-stage efforts seems to be that everyone is having a palpably good time.

This weekend’s hellish snow did little to deter hardcore G&S fans, though the odd seat did remain empty. Come hopefully better weather next weekend, The Gondoliers will definitely be worth a gander.

—Crimson Arts Critic Patrick D. Blanchfield can be reached at blanchf@fas.harvard.edu.

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