Sir Arthur Sullivan wrote delightful, jolly music for his 12th collaboration with W.S. Gilbert, The Gondoliers. And much of the cast in the current Pittsburgh Savoyards production performs those melodies superbly in solos, trios, quartets and an impressive chorus. Music director Guy Russo gets fine sound from his cast, even when faulty intonations in his orchestra could lead singers astray.
Given the drawn-out foolishness of Gilbert's libretto, however, the silly plot needs a remarkable director to find the right tone. And unfortunately, Robert S. Hockenberry doesn't seem to have a clue how to do it. Pity the fumbling cast, earnestly playing obvious shtick amid thuddingly dull pacing.
The Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro betrothed their baby daughter Casilda to the infant son of the King of Barataria. But the lad was spirited to Venice, and may actually be one of two gondoliers, brothers Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri. It turns out that The Grand Inquisitor, Don Alhambra del Bolero, had a hand in the kidnapping. The grown Casilda and her folks urge both Italians to rule until it can be determined which is the rightful heir and the presumed future husband. But the brothers just got married.
It has been suggested that Gilbert is sending up nobility, class distinctions and legal folderol. You'd never get that from this production. Clearly Gilbert was not dealing in subtleties, so Gondoliers needs to be played with the lightest of touches and with tongue in cheek. Instead, director Hockenberry sinks the whole thing with leaden business in which performers stodgily mouth dialogue as if to drain every last syllable of recorded time. Meanwhile Gregory Patrick, as the Grand Inquisitor, incessantly flaps his cape as a substitute for creating a funny character.
Other physical embellishments include regular stumbling, and cast members pushing each other back and forth like squirming kindergarteners -- even while someone is singing a solo. Such antics distract attention from where it should be: on wonderful voices, especially Chris Fiano's as Mario; Gail Novak's as his bride, Gianetta; and Rebecca Rumfelt's Duchess.
Thanks to Russo and so many first-rate singers, Sullivan gets his due. Gilbert's potential fun, meanwhile, gets stuck in the mud.
The Gondoliers continues through March 20. Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie. 412-734-476 or firstname.lastname@example.org