Andrew Greene (530nm330hz) wrote,
Andrew Greene

A review: MITGSP's Gondoliers

Last night introverte and I went on a double-date with mabfan and gnomi to see MITGSP's production of The Gondoliers, with inter alia chanaleh and greenlily.

I could tell from the first "List and Learn" that we were going to have a wonderful evening. Gondoliers is tough for a community theatre group to perform, because there are so many prominent roles that it's hard to assemble a cast where even the chorus is made up of quality voices. I am delighted that MITGSP succeeded in overcoming this difficulty --- the chorus (especially the women) had excellent tone, great blend, and clear diction. And if the chorus was fine, you can be sure that the soloists were as well. The only two solists who were at all disappointing were the Duke of Plaza-Toro and Don Alhambra, and in both cases the disappointment was that they didn't have the vocal power to be heard over/through the orchestra at all times. (To his credit, the actor playing the Duke was channeling his inner John Reed quite successfully.)

The set was ambitious and quite successful. Kudos to the set designer and to the stage crew for pulling off a complex set change during intermission. MITGSP has come a long way from the days of three lab tables and two 4'-wide flats leaning against the blackboard! I've never seen a Gondoliers in which the canal is perpendicular to the front of the stage, and the audience can see the boats in the canal face-on; it worked really well at dividing the stage and allowed for some nice blocking for "The Merriest Fellows are We". The transformation to the court of Barataria was amazing --- if the first act set was ambitious community-theatre construction, the second act set was a work of art.

The stage direction was fine overall, although I'd quibble about a few details here and there. (My biggest one is that the Grand Inquisitor would never sit on the throne.) The music direction was also quite good; there were a few tempo oddities and a few points where the onstage and pit musicians weren't quite in sync; I'd also wish that the orchestra would have been marked down a dynamic level when the weaker singers were soloing. That said, I understand that the conductor was a last-minute substitution by the vocal director, and I must emphasize again that the singers were excellently prepared.

I never appreciated before how ticked off both Gilbert and Sullivan must have been with the D'Oyly Carte cast. In Act I, Sullivan kills all the applause moments, either by an attacca into the next piece or by tacking on a weak coda at the end of a song, depriving the audience of the cue for when to start clapping. I've never been more frustrated as an audience member, wanting to communicate to the cast how much I was appreciating their work and being unable to do so. So to the cast, my apologies if you felt Act I was going over badly; it wasn't by any means. We just couldn't figure out when to applaud you.

The biggest complaint I have with this production is the lighting design. I am quite fond of Mike Bromberg, and it pains me to criticise him publicly, but in fairness I must report on all aspects of the production. There were no footlights and, in my opinion, not enough lights from the rear of the theater, so when the overall lights were dimmed to emphasize a soloist the soloist's face was insufficiently illuminated. There were a few other moments where color changes or patterned lights were used none too subtly and turned into a distraction from rather than an enhancement of the action.

The other thing that disappointed me was that the high quality of the performers may have come at the expense of giving MIT students a chance to perform. Edited to add: A comment below from greenlily clarifies that this is not a matter of policy but a consequence of who chose to audition. Glad to hear it! I'm leaving the rest of this paragraph in situ for context. I don't have my programme book with me as I write this, but there seemed to be but a handful of MIT students, staff, and affiliates onstage. When we formed the group 22 years ago, this was a big struggle then, too --- when highly talented singers who are studying at Longy or NEC audition, and will give the audience a much higher level of quality than the MIT student auditioning, to whom does the group give preference? Back then, we compromised on a quota system --- of the three top roles, at least one had to go to someone with an official connection to the 'Tute, and at least half of the principals had to be MIT affiliated. So while I'm thrilled and proud that MITGSP is thriving and putting on such great shows for the MIT community to enjoy, I am a little concerned and disappointed that it appears that the cost is borne by MIT students. (I hope I'm wrong.)

But I want to "leave you with feelings of pleasure" --- this is an excellent Gondoliers and the best show I've ever seen MITGSP perform. Congratulations to the excellent cast, crew, and production staff. We enjoyed ourselves completely, and I commend the show to your attention.
Tags: review

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