REVIEW: Glow Lyric Theatre Gets Giddy in Glorious ‘Gondoliers’

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Tenor James Smidt and baritone James Siarris are”The Gondleiers” in Glow Lyric Theatre’s operetta finale. PHOTO BY WALTER EZELL

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Glow Lyric Theatre’s 7th Summer Festival season has taken audiences on a far-out trip to a 1968 hippie commune, and to the witch trials of 1692 Salem. Now, in the company’s finale production, Glow sets sail to Venice in the farcical operetta “The Gondoliers,” a plucky, well-groomed voyage that is light as a tiara, but ever so bitingly timeless.

“The Gondoliers” opens with trumpeter Chris Imhoff marching in with violinist Simone Little Beach, Chris Earle on snare drum, and Glow Music Director Christian Elser on accordion, in a prelude arrangement that astutely and fancifully sets the tone for the blissful, topsy-turvy proceedings to come.

This lively operetta is both musically snappy and visually dreamy, and unabashed about emphasizing Glow’s theme this year: “Question Authority.” Moreover, the antics in this fictional kingdom prove as relevant today as the company’s electrifying staging of  “HAIR,” which, with the engaging opera of “The Crucible,” is being presented in repertory through July 30.

And whereas this final great work by Gilbert & Sullivan lampooned the monarchy in 1889 Victorian England, director/choreographer Jenna Tamisiea is not shy about the subject of satire in this revival, which she and husband/co-founder Elser spiritedly call “the SNL skit” of the season.

In addition to anachronisms like cell phones and references to the Kardashian clan, entire passages of the libretto (public domain) have been re-written to reflect the current political and social climate in the era of the Trump family dynasty. The Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach is mentioned, and as well as amusing new choruses that include lines such as “I like to run errands on my big brand new jet airplane,” referring to the president’s wasteful use of Air Force One.”

“The Gondoliers” is an absurdist, hilarious romp about down-trodden aristocrats who pin their future on their daughter’s marriage to the heir to the throne of Barataria. He was kidnapped as an infant 20 years ago but now has been discovered to be one of two simple gondoliers, both whom have taken new brides.

The brothers Marco and Giuseppe, the two sexiest gondoliers in all of Venice, have the adoration of every woman and girl in the city, as demonstrated by the finest female ensemble I have seen all season. This incredible gaggle of the female gender in all ages, exudes the epitome of pure Savoy giddiness as they dance and swoon (even faint) in the “List and Learn” movement, and all the while taking such pleasure in the material. And this scene is made all the more pleasing by their winsome, authentic village wear by costumer Erin Barnett.

The leading men in “The Gondoliers” are the dynamic duo of tenor James Smidt (also playing Reverend Parris in “The Crucible”) in exceptional form (and blue and white Dr. Seuss socks) as the flamboyant, suave and vain Marco, and dashing baritone James Siarris, who maintains the charisma of Elvis but with a hilarious, dippy grin worn the entire operetta, as the less brainy brother Giuseppe.

They are countered and complimented by their newlyweds Tessa (Laura Thomason) and Gianetta (Macie VanNorden), both with high-caliber vocals that are especially lovely when paired in “Here we are at the risk of our lives.”

Boats are a recurring theme in “The Gondoliers,” but never was a voyage so deliriously momentous as  “From the sunny Spanish shore,” the splendid four-part patter song reminiscent of “Three little maids from school are we” in “The Mikado.” It makes one wonder what Gilbert & Sullivan would have done with “Titanic.”

This merry quartet features noble and witty performances by Jeremiah Johnson and Melissa Parks (who also sing the married couple roles of John and Elizabeth Proctor in “The Crucible”) as the down-on-their-luck Duke and Duchess of Plaza Toro seeking their daughter’s claim to the Barataria fortune.

And though we don’t see enough of them in the second act, the spotlight never dims on daughter Casilda and her footman and clandestine love, Luiz: the dazzling Jeanette Simpson, who gives a daring dramatic turn as the spiteful Abigail in “The Crucible,” thrives here as a comic soprano, sharing a lascivious, overheated libido with her Latin lover, the smashing Hugo Vera, who also plays polar-opposite in “The Crucible” as the trial judge.

Samuel Kreuer plays bass and Hailey Anthum Hunter is on piano for this production, which also includes a most amusing Ryan Allen as Don Alhambra del Bolero; and AJ Trinci, Waseem Alzer, John Siarris, Gavin Carnahan, Jessie Barnett, Emlynn Shoemaker, Holly Caprell, Elizabeth DeVault, Katherine Kuhfuss, Chloe Miller, Katerina McCrimmon, and Paige Vasel.

The little townspeople are played by Karis King, Trace King, Maddi Lawson, Margaret Devine and Olivia Woodall. And the canine part of Isabella la Perrita is carried by the Maltese/Yorkie Sophie Gibbes.

For more information about the impressive cast, visit http://www.glowlyric.com/artists/season-ensemble/

Henry Wilkinson is scenic designer on “The Gondoliers,” with Maranda DeBusk as lighting designer, Kerry Stroud on props, and Jessica Karnes as stage manager.

“The Gondoliers” opens tonight at 8 p.m. at the Fine Arts Center, 102 Pine Knoll Drive in Greenville, and runs in repertory through Sunday, July 30 with “The Crucible” and “HAIR.” For tickets, call (864) 558-4569 or visit http://www.glowlyric.com/tickets.

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