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The Gondoliers

A revitalized and contemporary revival of this Gilbert & Sullivan classic celebrated the conclusion of the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ 40th anniversary season.

Amy Maude Helfer, Matthew Wages, Sarah Caldwell Smith and Daniel Greenwood in a scene from NYGASP’s “The Gondoliers” (Photo credit: William Reynolds)

Amy Maude Helfer, Matthew Wages, Sarah Caldwell Smith and Daniel Greenwood in a scene from NYGASP’s “The Gondoliers” (Photo credit: William Reynolds)

Ryan Mikita, Critic

When commenting on a piece written by the legendary team of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, there isn’t really much to critique when it comes to the material; the script and score speak for themselves. Between 1871 and 1896, Gilbert & Sullivan wrote 14 comedic operas, 13 of which are produced on a regular basis around the world. For the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP), the 2014-2015 season marked the 40th Anniversary of this company’s efforts to keep the spirit of G&S alive in the big city, and The Gondoliers was the last of three productions which made up this milestone season.

Founded by Albert Bergeret in 1974, he continues to this day as artistic director for the NYGASP, and on this occasion served as director and conductor, with an assist by choreographer David Auxier on the direction. A daunting and impressive achievement, this production also marked the conclusion of the first season in which the NYGASP performed in their new residence: NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. A beautiful and state of the art theater, this is a space that can handle the grandeur and scale of a G&S piece. The theater provides remarkable production value, including a massive pit to house the almost thirty person orchestra. Thanks to the latest in acoustic engineering and innovation, the music of The Gondoliers was robust and invigorating. Led by Bergeret, the score filled every inch of the theater and truly transported the audience to another time and place.

Boasting a cast of close to 40 performers (for those keeping track, that’s about 75 including the orchestra), The Gondoliers has two major plotlines running simultaneously. Though it was slightly confusing at times to keep track of the madness, strong performances from the main players kept things interesting. The two leading gondoliers Giuseppe and Marco, played respectively by Matthew Wages and Daniel Greenwood, are witty and naïve, and the nature of their major conflict is silly but provides for some light-hearted fun for the audience. Vocally, Wages and Greenwood in tandem blended very well and skillfully maneuvered through Sullivan’s music.

The Company in a scene from NYGASP’s “The Gondoliers” (William Reynolds)

The Company in a scene from NYGASP’s “The Gondoliers” (William Reynolds)

A true standout in the cast was Ryan Allen as Don Alhambra Del Bolero, the Grand Inquisitor. Thanks to a combination of the excellent acoustics of the space and Allen’s vocal technique, the Grand Inquisitor’s baritone seemed to resonate to every corner of the room. Not only this, but Allen clearly has a niche for physical comedy and was a commanding presence on the stage. While Allen provided many moments of laughter for the audience, half the fun in watching his performance was the obvious enjoyment to be found in the audience’s unfettered attention.

As would only be fitting for a production with almost 75 artists, Jack Garver’s set design was equally lavish. The only set change happened between Acts 1 and 2, but the design of the respective locations was completely unique. In transforming from the port of Venice in Act 1 to the kingdom of Barataria in Act 2, not one set piece was recognizable from the other. To aid in the suspension of disbelief, the costume design for this production was excellent. Designed by Jan Holland, the wardrobe for this large cast was so varied that it truly mimicked the exotic locations of the story. Also, for a production that ran just short of three full hours, it must be brought to light that the pace was consistent and enjoyable, and the scene transitions were effortless. This was a production which never seemed to fall flat as those three hours flew by with haste.

In their fortieth year, the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players continue to strive for excellence in the presentation and preservation of these classic works for a new audience, year after year. The Gondoliers is no exception. With a new home and a newly achieved scale of ambition, Bergeret’s once young company can now look forward to many more milestones as they continue to take advantage of the timelessness of the Gilbert & Sullivan repertoire.

The Gondoliers (May 15th – 17th, 2015)

New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players

NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place, in Manhattan

For tickets or more information, visit http://www.NYGASP.org

Running time: three hours including one intermission

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