RR LogoGondoliers Review Page One

Gondoliers poster full sizeThe Clarkson Music Theater, celebrating its 65th anniversary, is currently presenting the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Gondoliers, produced by Rita Ferguson, Christine McMahon and Jenny Peace in collaboration with Musical Director Ruth McDonald and Choreographer Julie Gallie. Prior to the performance on opening night, Rita Ferguson, who also serves as the President for the Clarkson Music Theater and Katherine MacKenzie the Vice President of Marketing met with me in the green room and reflected upon the theatre group’s continuous sixty-five year run.

“The Clarkson Music Theatre began in a church back in 1945 as the Clarkson Opera Group and they performed Gilbert and Sullivan operettas right up until 1969. Then they started to perform musicals like the Merry Widow and Broadway musicals. We do like to go back to our roots every so often and when we do, we go back to Gilbert and Sullivan and that is why tonight we are performing The Gondoliers as part of our 65th Anniversary celebration. I came to Canada (from Ireland) in 1988 and I joined the Clarkson Music Theatre in 1989. I have been heavily involved ever since. It is a wonderful group, with great people and we are like a family,” says Rita Ferguson.

Katherine MacKenzie, who put in a dynamic singing performance at the theatre group’s concert last spring, is just one of the many talented performers who came out to an audition, in her case for Sweeny Todd, got the part and then got hooked. That was two years ago and she has been involved ever since.

On opening night, there were many past performers in the audience and Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion presented the Clarkson Music Theatre with a special plaque honoring their achievements down through the years. Before the curtain went up and the orchestra began to play, a montage of vintage photos was projected on a large screen for the audience’s enjoyment.

On such a special occasion, there could hardly be a better venue than the 395 seat Meadowvale Theatre, which of the mid-size theatres that this writer has enjoyed throughout Canada and the United States, ranks as one of the better ones for both the performers and the audience. The stage is wide and deep, the acoustics are good and the sightlines are tremendous.

From the onset you knew this was going to be a sparkling performance, as the Duke of Plaza Toro (Don Berns), Duchess of Plaza (Renée Stein), their daughter Casilda (Jaime Lynn Brown) and the drummer Luiz (Matthew Butler) brought to the stage something that good directors and good actors deliver, that is they created the sense that these were real relationships that had a history to them away from what was revealed on stage.

This was our first opportunity to hear Ms Brown sing and she has a glorious voice and demonstrated incredible range. Renée Stein who first came to our publication’s attention during last spring’s concert, with her magnificent performance, was a treat to behold once again, as much for her acting as for her singing. Ms. Stein, has shared the stage with Liza Minelli, Christopher Walken and the Tito Puente Orchestra.

The storyline for The Gondoliers, in some ways reminds one of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, as it is a tale of love, only one with many twists and turns and true identities yet to be revealed. Where it differs is this operetta also involves the quest for the rightful heir to a throne. A key player in untangling this mysterious web is Don Alhambra Del Bolero and we must commend Bob Hardinge for bringing to his role a delicious wickedness. At times one wonders if during his youth he was cheering on the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, while the rest of us were rooting for Dorothy and Toto.

The pretenders to the throne, gondoliers named Marco Palmieri (Paul Bell) and Giuseppe Palmieri (Andrew Jackson) and their new brides, Gianetta (Marie Franceschini) and Tessa (Lisa Tass) brought authenticity to their roles and they were convincing in their portrayal of the various emotions of newlyweds, without being over the top, as I suspect is often the temptation for roles such as these.  Over and over again, what continued to impress one was the amazing vocal talent this cast possesses and not just the players we have mentioned, but throughout the supporting cast. The acting was equally splendorous.

The musicians under Ruth McDonald’s direction were outstanding. One of the stars of The Gondoliers never graced the stage and yet she is undoubtedly a star. Her name is Alex Amini, the Costume Designer, whose exquisite  costumes made these event breathtaking and if anyone out there in the cast or the production team is reading this and has quality photos of the costumes we would love to have you send them to us, because we want to publish them so our readers can enjoy them. Ms. Amini is a highly regarded Costume Designer throughout the Greater Toronto area, as she has worked with numerous theatre companies.

The 65th anniversary for the Clarkson Music Theatre and the opening night for The Gondoliers was billed as a gala event and it was that and more.

To view a vintage photo slide show celebrating the past 65 years of the Clarkson Music Theater please visit this page