by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The Jacksonville University College of Fine Arts presented its final production of this school year April 12, 13, 14 at Swisher Theatre on the campus grounds. The Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “The Gondoliers” was given a majestic production with gorgeous costumes, a cast of twenty-four and a twelve-piece orchestra. This lavish creation was made possible by the sponsorship of the Mayo Clinic.
The Gondoliers, the last collaboration by the team of Gilbert and Sullivan to achieve great popular success, was selected by Robert Tudor, Head of Opera and Music Theatre and Chair of the Division of Music, because it is such a delightful work but one not done often, being overshadowed by Gilbert and Sullivan’s more popular “Pirates of Penzance” and “Mikado.” Dr. Tudor also directed this show as a parting gift to his students, as he prepares to assume a new position with larger responsibilities in a new academic environment in the mid-Atlantic area.
The Gondoliers debuted in 1889 and ran for 554 performances at the Savoy Theatre. Since this is an after-the-fact review, just a brief peek at the plot will follow. The story concerns two gondoliers who were raised together in Venice; one is a royal prince who is now the King of Barataria. He was abducted and placed in the household in infancy by the Grand Inquisitor, to protect him from the heretical leanings of his now-deceased father. Complications arise as both Gondoliers have recently married, and the Inquisitor decides both will rule until Inez, the King’s foster-mother can travel to Barataria to identify which is the ruler. If you are interested in pursuing this further, the Jacksonville Public library has DVDs of the production. You might also try to find a copy of the 1999 movie “Topsy-Turvy” for a comic look at the irascible lyricist W.S Gilbert and pleasure-loving composer Sir Arthur Sullivan.
The costumes were rented and coordinated by The Costume Crew with Maggie Moore providing Costume Assistance. They included interesting peasant clothes, with colorful long skirts, aprons, blouses with lace and ruffles, and straw hats with flowers. The men were equally colorful, with short trousers, flowered jackets, and boots. The formal clothing was elaborate, with a beautiful red and black dress for Casilda, brocade and white wigs for the Duke and Duchess, and kingly attire with gold braid.
The set and lighting design by Brandon Lettow included beautiful Venetian buildings with a canal in the background, and a spacious throne room, all with a beautifully blue sky.
The cast were all students of Jacksonville University, and most were in musical programs. The one exception was Nina Gonzalez, in the role of Inez, the foster mother, who performed well and was picture perfect for the part. Mrs. Gonzalez is a Spanish Instructor at JU and her family is passionate about music.
Erick Crow (Marco) and Zeek Smith (Giuseppe) were delightful as the two handsome gondoliers who excelled both vocally and as comedians. Two very talented ladies played their wives. Jordyn Jones (Tessa) and Leanna Brown (Gianetta) sang beautifully. With both being sophomores, we are sure we will be seeing them in future JU productions.
Alec Hadden was outstanding as The Grand Inquisitor, with his deep deep robust voice. Mr. Hadden is a director’s dream when it comes to projecting spoken dialogue, strong and forcefully, as befitting a grand inquisitor.
Senior Maggie Moore was Casilda who suddenly learns she is the Queen of Barataria, having been married to the future King when both were infants, then separated. She was in a quandary since she is in love her parent’s servant Luiz (Alejandro Rodriquez). Ms. Moore and Rodriquez sang a marvelous duet “There was a Time.”
Casilda’s parents, The Duke of Plaza-Toro (Stephen Michael Johns) and his Duchess (Raquel Lopez), were clearly the crowd favorites judging from the curtain call applause. Not only did they have the audience laughing at their over-the-top physical appearance, but both played the roles with grand gestures and excellent comic timing.
Others in featured roles included Britt Mathis (Antonio), Brandon MacLean (Francesco) Jeromy Larson (Giorgio), Tiffany Thomas (Fiametta), Brittany Nickell (Vittoria) and Michelle Csapek (Giulia). Eight very versatile actors came on and off stage in multiple roles that included Gondoliers and Contadine, Men-at-Arms, Heralds and Pages. They were Sapphire Garrett, Samantha Wicklund, Anesha Hines, Elaine Tyson, Chris Robertson, Ryan Manning, Mikey Ancrum, and Adrian Trejo.
Others on the production staff were Bobb Robinson Musical Director, Stage Manager Michelle Mestas, Choreographer Jennah Knight, Properties Ryan Manning and Alejandro Rodriquez and Hair and Make-up Brittany Carter and Stephen M. Johns.
The Dual Critics would like to thank The Mayo Clinic for its sponsorship, and Jacksonville University for making this fine production available to all with such affordable ticket prices. We are already excited about what JU will be bringing to the stage during the next school year.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM