The University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society will be serving up “The Grand Duke” for theatergoers this weekend. “The Grand Duke” takes place in the village of Pfennig-Halbpfennig, where the Duke is being dethroned by a troupe of actors. However, their plot is discovered by one of the Duke”s detectives, and a duel is the course of action. But this duel is like no other. There are no smoking guns at the end of it rather, a deck of cards. He who draws the higher card takes the identity of the other person and he who draws the lower card, is well, dead.
Victoria Rondeau and David Zinn will co-direct “The Grand Duke.” The pair have teamed up for their fourth UMGASS production. Rondeau and Zinn faced the task of cutting the opera from three hours down to two, by focusing on what was key to the plot. Rondeau said there were some very pretty pieces of music that were cut out because they didn”t further the storyline. “We wanted Lisa to be a stronger character so we cut out the aria at the end of Act I,” said Rondeau. Zinn thought the issue of cutting would be touchy for Gilbert and Sullivan fans because there is bound to be a person who notices the missing parts. According to Zinn, there is documentation in Gilbert and Sullivans” diaries saying that they did not get to edit the show as they would have liked.
The plans for “The Grand Duke” were in the works before the cast was in place. Rondeau and Zinn take an interesting approach to arranging people on the stage. They begin by assigning each member of the cast a fake name. The chorus is also given an occupation.
Then they begin drawing diagrams and moving the cast members around the stage. By doing this, the directors have an idea of their space constraints before working with the cast.
The members of UMGASS are all volunteers. Cast members range in age from 15 to 77. Roughly 60 percent of UMGASS are students and the rest come from the community, some with University ties and some without. Not everyone who is a member UMGASS performs, but they can be part of production.
The Musical Director is Armando Bayolo. “The Grand Duke” is his first production with UMGASS. While the show has several lead actors, he says that “the choir runs the show.”
Rondeau says she enjoys the process of making it work and projecting what we want the audience to see.” Both directors see their cast as a cohesive group with a high energy level. They can play off each other, which is key for the chorus because the directors do not want them to be wallpaper.
The members of UMGASS are all volunteers, so everyone wants to leave happy and have a good time. The cast appeared to embody this in their rehearsals.