The Gondoliers

Previewed 27 June 2001, Opened 3 July 2001, Closed 29 September 2001 at the Apollo Theatre

Gilbert and Sullivan as you've never seen it before . . . . Take Sullivan's great tunes add a little jazz, mix in a handful of love and laughter, stir vigorously, serve hot! John Doyle's adaptation of The Gondoliers in London.

When Don Christo, the head of a Venetian Mafia family dies, he leaves behind an only son and heir, who unfortunately had been missing for 25 years. The Godmother sends her Venetian mob family to the Gondola Restaurant, Little Venice, London where she believes he is living. Meanwhile, the Chicago mob family, the Cacciattoro's also descend on London to find their daughter had been secretly married to Don Christo's son at the tender age of 6 months. Throughout all of the madness, the Palmieri family, who run the Gondolier Restaurant, find themselves despatched to Venice, Italy for identification by... The Godmother.

The cast features Mike Afford, Rebecca Arch, Josephine Baird, Eddie Burton, Mark Crossland, Christopher Dickins, Karen Mann, and Elizabeth Marsh. Adapted and directed by John Doyle with music adapted and orchestrated by Sarah Travis, designs by Mark Bailey and lighting by Richard G Jones. The production transfers to London's West End following an acclaimed run at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury (April/ May 2001) and a one week run (22 to 26 May 2001) at the Cochrane Theatre in London as part of the 2001 Covent Garden Festival.

John Doyle's West End credits include Jerry Herman's Mack and Mabel and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.

"There are so many reasons to hail John Doyle's irresistible new production of the Gilbert and Sullivan Gondoliers... The real coup of this Gondoliers is that it's a breakthrough for music theatre itself. The performers all sing, play about two instruments each, and at least three roles each. The seamlessness with which speech and song flow in and out of each other is simply ideal. These performers aren't just singing actors - they're also the orchestra, the chorus, and they dance (really well). And - how rare in Gilbert and Sullivan - they are in no way camp... This Gondoliers, the best thing to arrive in Shaftesbury Avenue in months, is a thrilling breath of fresh music-theatre air." The Financial Times

"This is Gilbert and Sullivan, but not as we know them. Forget all that fusty Victorian satire from the D'Oyle Carte stable. The Gondoliers is an ingenious pocket jazz version of the operetta which has been re-routed via Chicago, Italian restaurants and international airports. It's a world inhabited by Mafia hitmen in hats and dark glasses. Sullivan would recognise little of it, including the instruments: saxophones, bass guitar, trumpets and accordion - but it works. Director and choreographer John Doyle has managed to find eight actors who all play two instruments each brilliantly, they sing well, they can dance and they're funny with it... Doyle's adaption is an outrageous liberty, of course, but it comes off. The actors swing into action with their instruments which they brandish like lethal weapons. The jazz is fabulous - those trumpets are hot - even if Gilbert's score is a casualty, but the point is not to take it even remotely seriously. It is a light summer lark with a brassy tang and it's great to see a cast having such fun." The Daily Express

"The director John Doyle has established a crack ensemble of actor-musicians, who don't just play the characters and sing the songs but also form the band. What's more, Doyle has plugged into the current trend in pop music, serving up refreshing 'remixed' versions of classic shows... In the spring, he and his outstanding company sprinkled their potent magic dust on that old Gilbert and Sullivan warhorse, The Gondoliers. Impresario Bill Kenwright is now giving the Watermill Theatre wonders a richly deserved ten-week season at the Apollo Theatre... Most of the patter has been cut, the dialogue is full of new jokes rather than old chestnuts, and the tunes have been brilliantly adapted and arranged by Sarah Travis so that the familiar G&S melodies now have a strong jazz, Latin and Italian flavour. The show, staged on a stylish op-art set by Mark Bailey, seems as fresh as paint. The eight-strong company double and treble their roles, as well as performing on trumpet, saxophone, accordion, double bass, keyboards, drums, flute and fiddle, moving from instrument to instrument with practised ease." The Daily Telegraph

"Theatre doesn't need to be radical to be enjoyable, but it needs to be radical to matter in the larger scheme of things. Bill Kenwright, an impresario who gets bolder and ever more generous in his eagerness to encourage fresh new talent, has brought into the West End from the Watermill in Newbury a terrific ensemble of musician-actors with director John Doyle's invigorating reinvention of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers... The frantic and wildly improbable tale concerns a lost Mafia heir (his papa has been assassinated) who was married as an infant to a suitable baby girl but has since been spirited away to London and raised by a restaurateur in Little Venice. I'm afraid I don't know my Gondoliers from my HMS Pinafore, so I've no idea if the plot merely thickens or curdles. What I can be sure of, however, is that the show gets better and better and takes you with it. Happy punting." The Mail on Sunday

John Doyle, who adapted and directs this production explains some of the background to this production: "In building a repertoire of work for actor-musicians, we find it increasingly important that we explore classic works to give us a springboard for story-telling. Gilbert and Sullivan were masters of their genre. They wrote the first musicals. They were indeed the fathers of musical theatre, as we know it today. Their satirical stories are musically rich, their characters are wonderful, and their humour is, to say the least, anarchic. Everything we were looking for in our next project. When you adapt a piece of theatre for eight multi-skilled actor-musicians, you have obvious restrictions but also endless scope. This may seem like a contradiction. I will try to illuminate.

"The pragmatic restrictions of making theatre happen today dictate scale and style. From these very restrictions has grown, over a couple of decades, a previously untapped resource, which is perhaps a way forward for theatre. Many companies are using their skills, each in their own way. We are not a large company because the intimacy is our main ingredient. The ensemble nature of the performance is the root of what we are trying to do. Our work had its birth in the challenging atmosphere of the Watermill Theatre, a cockpit of a space with fantastic audience contact. It holds all the directness and clarity which so many of our larger houses fail to engender. Like all births though, our work can grow, and through our touring policy it has proved so.

"However, where do we begin? We can't do straight interpretations of musical theatre pieces, or operas, because the skills of the ensemble defy this. Every story has its own demands. I somehow don't see us ever trying West Side Story! For many years we did re-interpret, but this became a limitation to our working style. The instruments are characters in themselves, they have voices, and so in fact we are no longer eight. We are an enormous company, not all human. A band who tell stories! We cannot tell stories in traditional ways, though, because what we are doing is not traditional. It is thought of as something new. Not really! It has its roots in the mummers. The one-man band has been a feature of much seaside entertainment. Nothing's new really.

"For our new piece, we were looking for a musical story, which was of the highest quality. As the company is a band, we have to do work which is musically challenging. However, you can also have great fun with this style of story-telling, and 'fun' was what we were looking for. Who better for quality and fun than Gilbert and Sullivan? In today's terms, they were madcap, they were rooted in the classical idioms of mistaken identity and chaos leading to harmony, and they were interested in the direct links between the story-teller and his or her audience. I am confident that Gilbert and Sullivan would have had enough sense of humour to see that what we have been doing with operetta is meant with terrific affection. Yes, we have updated it both textually and musically, but we have tried to be true to the essence of the original. We have abandoned all the traditions for reasons that I hope are obvious. If theatre roots itself solely in tradition then there may be no eventual way forward and only those who remember the traditions will sustain the theatre. This in itself is going to have only short-term gain. Our responsibility must be to the long term.

"Gondoliers is about so little but about so much. It's about people in love who look very, very silly. Shakespeare did it too! Gone are the choruses, gone is much of the patter, but the real story hasn't gone. Venice has become Little Venice, Plaza Toro has become Cacciatorro, a gondola has become a jazz café (well sometimes), and a foster mother has become a godmother with a difference! No offence meant though, just good clean fun! This piece is the very antithesis of what we aimed to do in our production of Carmen. Yet there is a deep-rooted vein which binds them. It is respect for the original work; a humble attempt at getting to the root of the story, and recognition that the relationship between the performer and the watcher is what it's all about! It's what keeps it live! I hope we can always celebrate that."

The Gondoliers in London at the Apollo Theatre previewed from 27 June 2001, opened on 3 July 2001 and closed on 29 September 2001