Gilbert and Sullivan connoisseurs hold "The Gondoliers" in high regard.
Sullivan's music is first-rate, filled with enough melodic invention to fuel two operettas. And if Gilbert hadn't already done so much with switched identities and contralto-types imparting secrets in the last scene, his libretto would be considered a decidedly original, clever little masterpiece.
Young Victorian Theatre Company's production of "The Gondoliers," which closes this weekend at Roland Park Country School, provides a mostly satisfying celebration of the work's many qualities.
Even allowing for a weak spot or two, the cast is vocally effective -- a few of them would, I suspect, have been welcomed at the old Savoy Theatre -- and there's no shortage of spirited acting. Everyone could pay more attention to clarity of diction, though. There really shouldn't be a need for the supertitles.
As the sibling gondoliers who end up with wives and a possible kingdom, Logan Rucker (Marco) and Andrew Thomas Pardini (Giuseppe) do robust work. As their love interests, Gabrielle DeMers is a dynamo as Gianetta, with her bright, hearty soprano. Alexis Tantau reveals style as Tessa, but sounds underpowered.
The droll Andrew Adelsberger (Duke of Plaza-Toro) and ever-engaging Jennifer Blades (Duchess of same) nearly walk off with the show, putting an equally telling spin on musical numbers and spoken dialogue. There are sturdy efforts from Melissa Mino as Casilda and Daniel Andrews as her beau, Luiz (I wish Mino would not pronounce his charcater's name as "Lou-eze").
Jeff Williams sings vibrantly as Don Alhambra, the Grand Inquisitor, but, for some reason, seems to confuse a Dracula accent with a Spanish one. The chorus makes a well-focused, smooth sound and carries out stage business more or less in disciplined fashion.
The singers enjoy sensitive support from conductor Phillip Collister, who has quite a flair for shaping G&S scores, invariably showing as much concern for lyrical passages as snappy ones. The colorful little orchestra is a decided plus, too. Fatma Daglar's tender oboe solo in the overture is among the admirable contributions.
(Occasional communication lapses on opening night between podium, pit and/or stage, primarily in recitatives, should be smoothed out by now.)
The stage also has the benefit of pretty sets and costumes; lots of nice old-fashioned charm there.
Musically and visually, this is one of the strongest productions I can remember from Young Vic over the past dozen or more years. But, as is so often the case with this troupe, an almost stubborn provincialism keeps popping up, taking a toll.
In this case, that includes several groaners inserted into the text. The company might be forgiven for the occasional contemporary addition, but not when they are as forced and unfunny as they are in this case.
And stage director James Harp has a habit of slipping into cliched movements -- lots of choristers-swaying-to-the-music time-killers, for example -- and repeating some shtick to the point it loses whatever cuteness it initially had (Don Alhambra's "I Stole the Prince" number is a prime example).
As for the solo dancing by Christina Denny, it could use more imaginative choreography and a point; it looks tacked on.
Young Vic, one of Baltimore's oldest arts groups, can never get enough praise for honoring the G&S canon. I just wish it could step up to the next artistic level. This production of "The Gondoliers" makes plain that it is so, so close.
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