Set in the fictional republic of Barataria in 1950s Italy, two brothers are told the surprising news that one of them is king.
Until they are told, Marco and Giuseppe had merrily lived the life of gondoliers, believing in equality and marrying happily. Now not only is one of them the symbol of what they detest, but one is also already married to the duke and duchess’ daughter, Casilda. They decide to set out to find out who it is and agree that both are King until they know the truth.
So starts the topsy-turvy rollicking shenanigans that “The Gondoliers” creators Gilbert & Sullivan were known for.
“Gilbert & Sullivan were this dynamic duo that dominated the world of operetta in the late 19th century England,” said Ken Peterson, an associate professor of music and choir director for “The Gondoliers.” “The very last operetta they wrote together was ‘Gondoliers,’ which is the most advanced of all of their works, to my knowledge. It is a massive work, and musically, it’s my favorite.”
Two of their other operettas, “The Mikado” and “Pirates of Penzance,” were also produced at DSU.
“‘Gondoliers’ is an operetta, which is not quite an opera but more than a musical,” said Matt Russell, a senior theater major from Las Vegas, who plays the duke in “The Gondoliers.” “Operas are just singing straight through, while operettas actually have a little dialogue here and there.”
The chorus is featured 19 times throughout the operetta, which is more than the 15 named characters who have solo lines. In comparison, “Guys and Dolls,” produced in the fall at DSU, had three times the entire chorus, like most musicals, sung together and only two to half a dozen named characters who have solo lines.
“This is probably the most professional sounding cast we’ve ever had,” Peterson said. “It’s like a fireworks show. They are like musical fireworks with one right after the other.”
There is more of everything in “The Gondoliers.” Not only are there twice the number of named characters than in a usual musical, but there are also 40 musical numbers in total, while most musicals have between 12-16 musical numbers.
“The Gondoliers” was originally set in the late 1850s, but it was decided for this production to be set in 1950s post-war Italy. This transition has created the possibility to improv.
“There’s a lot of room to just kind of play and experiment, which is fun,” said Marie Hellewell, a senior music major from Las Vegas, who plays Casilda. “It’s a lot more fun to act.”
Improv is but one element in “The Gondoliers.” There are innuendos and nuances alongside irony and wit, satire and farce, Shakespearean language and dry humor.
“It’s really unique and really different from what other people have done,” Hellewell said. “And I think it’s just a really good way to feel cultured.”
With its many elements, it is a culture event for the whole family.
“(It is) culture that is absolutely entertaining,” said Ami Porter, an adjunct instructor of music, who plays the duchess. “It’s not opera, which you can’t understand, you know, very much of, but you can’t understand some of this either.That’s why I think it’s the kind of performance people will want to see again.”
“The Gondoliers” is a play packed full of verbal slapstick.
“The first time they’ll be like: ‘Oh that was funny. Now I understand the story, I think I’m going to come back and bring some other people,’” Porter said.
As DSU transitions to having graduate students, one goal of the fine arts department is to do more opera.
“Opera requires more of matures voices and mature players because of its demands, and we’re viewing Gondoliers as a step in that direction,” Peterson said.
“The Gondoliers” opens on Feb 28 on the Eccles Mainstage Theater at 7:30 p.m. It runs March 1-2 and March 5-9.