Not quite as memorable as some of its Gilbert and Sullivan counterparts, but just as enjoyable, the Lamplighters' production of "The Gondoliers" features a lush orchestra, strong vocals and a silly story of mistaken identities that serves as a satire of the class distinctions and royalty of Gilbert and Sullivan's time.
The simple plot of the operetta/musical (sung in English) follows two gondoliers in Venice who are told by Don Alhambra del Bolero, an Inquisitor of Spain, that one of them is the king of the fictional land, Barataria, but does not know which of them is the king. Marco and Giuseppe, both newlyweds, are even more surprised to learn that whomever happens to be the king was married in infancy to Casilda, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro. The news takes them away from their wives, Tessa and Gianetta, to their kingdom, where they immediately begin implementing an all-are-equal structure matching their Republican, anti-monarchy values. Meanwhile, Casilda has her own secret hopes for romance, but not with either of the gondoliers.
The humor of "Gondoliers" sometimes makes for a few awkward pauses when the audience fails to understand a joke, but it has a strong enough presence to drive the show. It does not come in every scene as it does in an operetta like "The Mikado," nor does the musical score include any extremely memorable tunes as it does in "Pirates of Penzance" and "H.M.S. Pinafore." But "Gondoliers" includes a few scenes and tunes that easily harken back to their predecessors, and the lush orchestra plays music just as ornate as those of all the other Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. These other three Gilbert and Sullivan musicals are the most performed of the daring duo's resume, and rightfully so. Thank heavens for companies like the Lamplighter that choose to do the whole bundle, alternating from year to year. Otherwise, theatre goers might lose the lesser done treasures like "Gondoliers." And, thanks to the Lamplighters, "Gondoliers" is a real gem for the bay area.
The current production, which plays through Sunday in Walnut Creek, includes beautiful sets that transport viewers to romantic Venice and fantastical Barataria, complementing the cast's bright costumes. The Italian peasant girls' costumes are so bright and cute, they sometimes seem more Dutch than Italian, perhaps something out of Monty Python's "Spamalot" Finland number. With a good sized chorus and helpful subtitles above the stage, there's certainly a lot to look a on the busy stage during ensemble-predominate songs.
The extravagant costumes of the Duke and Duchess match their ridiculous and funny characters well, making John Brown and Sonia Gariaeff standouts. The Inquisitor also has an outlandish wig and fantastic garbs and garments to add to his pompous character, played with excessive pride and fancy by CharLes Martin. Although Martin does not have the strongest voice in the cast, nor is he always in time with the music, he's very entertaining. Cary Ann Rosko, who plays Tessa, also has a less than perfect voice. She clearly has a good voice, but it does not fit the role as well as it should, and it lacks the full beauty and sound needed. Rosko's acting lacks nothing, however. As she rollicks about the stage with Amy Foote, who plays Gianetta, her youthful ways make her a delight to watch.
Foote and Elise Marie Kennedy, who sings the role of Casilda, exhibit the strongest voices in the cast. In addition to lovely acting, the two reward the audience with outstanding soprano voices. They are the cherries on top of an already overall delicious performance. Robert Vann, Marco, and Chris Uzelac, Giuseppe, are equally fun to witness as the two romantic gondoliers. Vann's voice sometimes overpowers that of Uzelac, but both create strong, pleasant sounds, and they skillfully add to the humor of the show with their playful spirits and artful mimicking of the Inquisitor and others.
A fun, but predictable turn of events gives the comedy its hilarious climactic ending that leaves the characters just as happy and content as the audience. The musical does not feature as much pattering or laugh-out-loud humor as one might expect, but it fully delights with its lovely cast and familiar Gilbert and Sullivan sounds. How can anyone love musical theater or opera and not love Gilbert and Sullivan, who provide a pleasant mixture of the two?