The Gondoliers: Reviews

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Salisbury Journal Review

Anne Morris

Memorable performances make for a magical night

SALISBURY Amateur Operatic Society deserve plaudits all round for their simply excellent production of this Gilbert & Sullivan comic operetta. Everything about this production had a professional touch to it and director Alistair Donkin, a Gilbert & Sullivan expert, must take much of the credit for this. It was colourful, slick, beautifully sung with some lovely choreography and above all was very, very funny.
The storyline gives the perfect opportunity for lots of comic touches, following as it does the loves and lives of gondoliers Marco and Guiseppe (superb performances by Matt Sparkes and Mike Flaws). Add to that the scheming of the poverty-stricken Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro (Michael Bolton and Jenny Mears) and their quest to marry their daughter Casilda (Laura Kitching making her memorable debut) to the rightful king.And then of course there is the manipulative and domineering Grand Inquisitor, Don Alhambra del Bolero (a resplendent Michael Bowyer, looking very dapper in his red suede shoes). The gondoliers’ love interests, Sasha Smigielska- Phillips’ Gianetta and Sara Collinson’s Tessa, were equally delightful in their singing.
There are so many memorable songs in The Gondoliers from the opening chorus, List and Learn and Marco’s solo, Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes to the effervescent song and dance number Dance a Cachucha, where the chorus truly sparkled. I wonder how many people left the City Hall with the catchy gondolieri tune in their heads as I did. The society’s production was pure magic.

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NODA Review

Andrew Carpenter 
NODA Regional Representative, SW Area District 10

The combination of Salisbury AOS, Alistair Donkin and Gilbert & Sullivan is proving to be a very successful one. After my visit to see The Mikado in December 2009 my expectations were high for this production of The Gondoliers and I was not to be disappointed. The Gondoliers has a special place in my heart because it was the very first musical in which I took part whilst at the Frome Grammar School in 1971, some 40 years ago!
The curtains opened on a simple but spectacular set with the Venice backcloth particularly impressive. The vast expanse of stage gave the director much opportunity to use width throughout the production which is always interesting for an audience. Whilst the second half backcloth was not as spectacular as the first (how could it be) it nevertheless was a perfect setting for the Pavilion in the Palace of Barataria. Costumes were also very impressive and just perfect for this production. The Gondoliers looked clean and bright and the ladies suitably alluring. Props were used sparingly, but when required were also perfect for the production. Make-up and wigs were ‘just right’ and in total keeping with the period. All in all the backstage crew did ‘their bit’ to perfection and gave the performers the ideal platform to ‘produce the goods’.
The opening chorus of ‘List and Learn’ set the tone for the production and was delivered with perfection by a choral group of the highest calibre. The singing was crisp and clear, with not a note dropped or a word unclear, and this was the case throughout the show. I congratulate John Dempster and the chorus for the quality of their singing throughout the performance and indeed the chorus was one of the undoubted highlights of this production.
The entrance of the Duke and his entourage and the scene that followed was again sung extremely well, although I would have liked to have seen a little more movement in this piece. In fact this was the case throughout the first half when I would like to have seen movement used more frequently as in Act Two. The recitative and duet between Casilda and Luiz was a sheer joy. Laura Kitching and Jon Baron are two very talented singers who showed great chemistry in their performance together. What a shame the score doesn’t allow them more!
The song ‘I stole the prince’ was delivered with perfection by, in my opinion, the undoubted star of this production. Michael Bowyer as Don Alhambra del Bolero combined a wonderful singing voice with comic timing of the highest quality to produce an all-round performance of the highest quality. His stage presence was there for all to see and admire. The recitative and quintet that followed also excelled.
The re-appearance of the excellent chorus now gave Tessa, played by Sara Collinson and Gianetta played by Sasha Smigielska-Phillips the chance to come to the fore with their very pleasant singing voices and acting qualities that made them perfect foils for the two young gondoliers. Marco played by Matt Sparkes and Guiseppe played by Mike Flaws are two gems of parts in Gilbert & Sullivan Operettas and both young men grabbed the opportunity with both hands. How fortunate Salisbury AOS are to have two such talented your men in their ranks at the same time. I hope they won’t mind me mentioning them as a pair, for that is exactly as they came across. They worked and sang perfectly together and each in their own way came to the fore as and when required. Giuseppe’s ‘Rising early in the morning’ is not an easy song to perform, but Mike really ‘nailed it’ and Matt Sparkes’ rendition of ‘Take a pair of sparkling eyes’ was perfection personified. Well done to all four of you.
When the chorus returned to perform ‘Here we are at the risk of our lives’ we were all in anticipation of what was to follow and again we were not to be disappointed. ‘Dance a Cachucha’ was undoubtedly THE number of the show, just as it should be, with the stage being used to its fullest and best extent (I have to say that the shadows didn’t work for me however as they took away much of the vibrant colour from this number). I adored the choreography of men/women turning their backs to the audience and again it was simple but effective throughout and never detracted from the excellent performance of the singers.
Michael Bowyer returned for another perfect rendition this time ‘There lived a King’ before the Quartet ‘In a Contemplative Fashion’ was delivered with dexterity by our four young lovers. The Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro really came into their own following ‘With Ducal Pomp’ with a wonderful rendition of ‘On the day when I was wedded’ by Jenny Mears, with very funny antics from Michael Bolton, and then the recitative and duet ‘To help unhappy commoners’. The gavotte too, when they were joined by Casilda, Marco and Giuseppe, was a splendid appetiser to a rapturous finale. Michael Bolton as the Duke of Plaza-Toro really came into his own in Act Two with a performance that was light of foot and quick of mind but I would like to have seen more of this in Act One. Similarly Jenny Mears’ portrayal as the Duchess of Plaza-Toro was far more commanding in Act Two than it had been previously, perhaps that is the way the show is written. The two of them were an ideal pairing of which Gilbert and Sullivan would have been proud.
All in all this was another fine production from a company with a very proud reputation that can only be enhanced by its quality. Director Alistair Donkin treated us to an array of beautiful ‘pictures’ that were most pleasant on the eye together with the odd pieces of detail, like the photographer at the opening of Act Two and the inclusion of ‘Clegg, Cameron and Milliband’ in the patter number, that really set this production apart from most others I see. Couple with that John Dempster supplying an orchestra and singers of the highest calibre you find Gilbert and Sullivan at its very best. I’m looking forward to The Sound of Music already!!!

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