Solid Savoyards’ production showcases local talent

Reviewed by Tony Villecco

Roe (left) and Tornberg

Roe (left) and Tornberg

For more than 50 years, the Summer Savoyards have produced the popular English operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, drawing largely on local talent ranging from fledgling teens to retired veterans. Last night (July 12) at Binghamton University’s Anderson Center, the troupe (the longest running current community group in Binghamton) presented an entertaining evening with its version of The Gondoliers.

There’s no point in trying to explain the story — it would comprise most of this review — so suffice to say its kind of boy(s)-meets-girl(s) with a mix of comedy that only the Brits can offer. Action opens in Venice and centers around pairs of both working stiffs and royals, all dealing with the machinations of a Grand Inquisitor.

As the gondolier Giuseppe, Matt Roe set the comedic pace last night, displaying a strong voice and an expert hand at humor. As a potential heir to a king’s throne, his energy was effusive and his gestures, memorable. The role of Don Alhambra was a gender-bender surprise featuring Patricia Raube as the (fe)male Grand Inquisitor. Her diction, singing and acting were very fine.

As Marco, the other studly gondolier, Cole Tornberg displayed a beautiful voice especially in the famous second act solo “Take a pair of sparkling eyes’” but seemed oblivious to the situations around him and at times downright detached from the cast. Maybe it was opening night nerves; hopefully he will be more engaged in the remaining performances.
Jana Kucera as Gianetta and Jocelyn Raychel as Casilda both have clean and lovely soprano instruments which project well. They managed to keep up the comedic pace of their romantic situations.

In a large cast, other competent performers included Patrick Tombs, who’s acting as improved considerably; Samuel Westover, who did a respectable job as the Duke, and, as the Duchess, Maria Aimoniotis, who is always a pleasure to watch.

Special note needs to be made of the maidens and gondoliers of the chorus, who performed very well despite difficulty in understanding some of the fast-paced lyrics. Difficult as it is to sing in our native tongue, this must be addressed; audience lost a lot “in translation.”
Maestro Matthew Vavalle did a commendable job with his fine orchestra. There were, however, times when both soloists and chorus were either ahead or behind the beat, making it obvious that the orchestra was playing “catch up.” Overall, however, these were minor difficulties in a generally solid production.

The handsome sets by Jim Ulrich were some of the best this writer has seen. The lighting by Derek Worden was also effective, particularly because the sets were kept to a minimum. Stage director Tim Mollen managed his cast well, keeping a balance between crowd cohesiveness and solid moments in which the soloists could shine.
Emily Gast’s choreography, while not entirely comfortable for everyone, nonetheless was entertaining and did not distract from the action at hand. Costumes by V. Gale Ohmer were handsome and appropriate; the colors aiding in the story’s movement and purpose.
Binghamton is fortunate to have a plethora of community theater groups, but the Savoyards’ ability to  both survive and thrive is particularly noteworthy. To offer up a G&S operetta every summer at a time when budgets and production costs are mounting is a tribute to its board and to the singers who appear each season.

IF YOU GO: Remaining performances of The Gondoliers are at 8 p.m. today (July 13) and 3 p.m. Sunday (July 14) in the Anderson Center Chamber Hall. Tickets are $18 (seniors and students, $15). Special rates are available for groups of 10 or more. Call 777-4237 or visit the box office in the BU Fine Arts Building. For more information, visit www.summersavoyards.org.
There will be a collection of canned goods for CIAO — um, CHOW.

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