The Gondoliers Cast

The Principals

Ryan Johnson – Giuseppe Palmieri

Stained teeth, powdered wigs, crowns, big furry hats and unshaven bromance is what Ryan is all about!  This is his fourth gig with the GSVLOC after H.M.S. Pinafore, Trial by Jury and Iolanthe.  No, he won’t spoil the show and tell you whether it’s him or his (younger, less handsome) brother Marco that becomes King of Barataria.


Maggie Burr – Tessa

Maggie received her Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance at Oakland University in Michigan.  She then studied at the University of Minnesota and fell in love with Minneapolis.  Since living here, Maggie has appeared onstage with the GSVLOC, Skylark Opera, The Guthrie Theater and Minnesota Opera.  You may know her best, however, from her summer as Snoopy at ValleyFair.  She currently sings with the Mindekirken Church Choir as the soprano section leader, and is the choir assistant at Brooklyn Center High School, where she trains the sopranos that will someday steal her roles.


Michael Burton – Marco Palmieri

Michael’s previous roles with the GSVLOC include Bunthorne in Patience, Leonard Meryl in The Yeomen of the Guard, Ludwig in The Grand Duke, and Nanki-Poo in a concert version of The Mikado.  He also sings with the Minnesota Opera chorus and teaches brass, guitar, and voice through Hopewell Music Cooperative North.  Michael went to Italy once, but didn’t get to see Venice because he slept in and missed the bus.


Blanka Melbostad – Gianetta

Blanka is thrilled to be part of the GSLVOC’s production of The Gondoliers. She has previously appeared in productions of The Music Man (Alma Hix), Nunsense (Sister Mary Leo), Cosi Fan Tutte (Fiordiligi), and The Magic Flute (Queen of the Night).  Deepest gratitude to The Gondoliers team, family and friends!


Philip Eschweiler – Luiz

The Gondoliers is Philip’ first production with the GSVLOC.  An avid thespian and musician, he has performed in works ranging from Enjolras in Les Mis and Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera, and as a concert soloist for numerous works by Handel and Bach and Orff’s Carmina Burana.  His biography was supposed to be funny, but Mr. Eschweiler is German and therefore efficient, but ill-suited to humor.


Cassandra Utt – Casilda

Cassandra is thrilled to be working with the GSVLOC family again and was most recently seen in H.M.S. Pinafore.  She moved to Minneapolis from Ohio for her career in Information Technology at Eaton Corporation.  Quickly falling in love with the arts community in the Twin Cities, Cassandra can now be found performing with local theatre and opera companies.  She is a volunteer with TEDxMinneapolis and other organizations focused on women in technology.  Cassandra received dual degrees from Bowling Green State University in both Computer Science and Vocal Performance.  She joined the newly founded company, Monicat Data, where she leads data analytics projects for artists and art organizations.  Cassandra recently participated in a program called Remote Year where she spent a year traveling around Europe, Asia, and South America, all while working remotely.


Jim Ahrens – The Duke of Plaza-Toro

Jim appeared in his first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta twenty years ago playing Dr. Daley in The Sorcerer.  He is relieved that that and subsequent appearances with the company (most recently Counsel for the Prosecution in Trial by Jury and Sir Richard in The Yeomen of the Guard) have at least been good enough that he can come back for more.  Jim’s performing career in the Twin Cities has covered entirely too many years.  As an actor, he has appeared with many local companies, including Jungle Theatre, Park Square Theater, nimbus, and Theatre Coup d’Etat, where he was last seen in the recent production of The Crucible.  He also served as a dialect coach for productions by Coup d’Etat, Shadow Horse Theatre, Girl Friday, and other organizations.  He has sung principal roles with many organizations, including Skylark Opera, Theatre Latte Da, Cerulean Productions, and Angels and Demons Entertainment (in last year’s acclaimed production of Marriage of Figaro at the James J,. Hill House).  He has also appeared as a soloist with The Minnesota Orchestra, The Oratorio Society of Minnesota, the Des Moines Symphony, and the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra.  For the last few years, he has sung principal roles with the annual Picnic Operetta, which combines grand opera, popular music, and fresh food in performances throughout Minnesota.  He is also the tenor soloist at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, where he will be the tenor soloist (and Archangel Uriel) in Haydn’s Creation this May.


Katerina Middeldorp – The Duchess of Plaza Toro

This is Katerina’s first EVER Gilbert & Sullivan production, and she’s thrilled to be joining such a wonderful and welcoming company.  She is a 2015 graduate of Saint Olaf College, where she studied Vocal Performance.  Past productions include Tosca, Daughter of the Regiment, and Sweeney Todd with Mill City Summer Opera, La Boheme with the Lakes Area Music Festival, and Medee with Metamorphosis Opera Theater, as well as many productions at Saint Olaf College and with the Northfield Arts Guild Community Theater.  Katerina is also a section leader with the Wayzata Community Church Chancel Choir.  During the day, she works at a Pet Store & Doggy Daycare / Pet Hotel facility, as well as teaching music and theater to the children of Northfield.  During her (very rare) free time, Katerina enjoys spending time with her husband, Dave, and their five fur babies: Collie, Ben; Golden Retriever, Luna; and their three cats, Jerry, Milo, and Tiana.


Waldyn Benbenek – Don Alhambra Del Bolero

Waldyn was introduced to Gilbert and Sullivan in a Catholic grade school production of H.M.S. Pinafore in which the scandalous swear word was “Darn-It.”  He had never seen anything so amazing.  Little was known of the “patter-chorus” syndrome at the time and treatment options were limited.  Opting for “controlled use”, his parents made him bike the hills of western Massachusetts to look for D’Oyly Carte recordings.  This allowed him to assume the appearance of a normal life long enough to sneak through college and immigrate to the Twin Cities at the dawn of the computer age.  Hearing of secret meeting in a Kenwood basement (now demolished) he joined Dick Fishel, Dean Lawrence, and Charlotte Morrison in forming the GSVLOC.  He has continued to serve the company as computer geek and performer lo these many years, though the father-figure roles take considerable less makeup than in the past.  The most significant benefit of his time with the company has been meeting and marrying Dr. Mary Mescher Benbenek and raising their children in an environment where art, theater, and music continue to be part of their lives.  When one of them was asked his father’s profession, he replied “opera singer.”  When asked why he said that, he replied, “Well, I can’t tell them you’re a computer programmer.  That’s too boring.”


Krin McMillen – Fiametta

Krin is so happy to be back with the GSVLOC playing Fiametta in The Gondoliers!  In addition to the GSVLOC, she has performed with Children’s Theatre Company, Valleyfair Entertainment, and more.  Krin is also a soprano with the Minnesota Chorale and has recently sung with the Minnesota Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Brahms’s A German Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, Verdi’s Otello for the Minnesota Orchestra Sommerfest Concert Series, and It’s a Wonderful Life in Concert for Live at Orchestra Hall.  She holds a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Bethel University, and currently works as a dance instructor for Mayer Arts as well as Entertainment Manager for Valleyfair Amusement Park.


Eric Sorum – Antonio

Eric is excited to be making his debut with the GSVLOC as Antonio.  The Gondoliers perfectly fits his taste for British humor, opera, and ridiculously happy endings.  Eric calls the Twin Cities home, and has spent almost a decade appearing in music groups in the area, such as the Minnesota Opera chorus, the Minnesota Chorale, Exultate, the Minnesota Bach Society, and many others.  He also appeared as Masetto in Don Giovanni with Twin Cities Fringe Opera.  Eric lives happily with his beautiful wife Kristina on Pillsbury Avenue and teaches people how to sing.


Brooke Wahlstrom – Giulia

After tripping hither and tripping thither last year as a fairy in Iolanthe, Brooke is delighted to return to the stage as Giulia in her second GSVLOC production. Last summer, she performed with Really Spicy Opera Company in Rigoletto (The Page) and in Mary Poppins with SACT as the eccentric and magical being, Mrs. Corry.  Brooke holds a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Palm Beach Atlantic University.  On days of sub-zero temperatures she habitually finds herself questioning why she moved from paradise to the frosty, frozen tundra known as Minnesota.


Steven Halloin – Francesco

This is Steven’s first foray with Gilbert & Sullivan, let alone his first role and first show with the GSVLOC.  He graduated from Luther College in 2015 and has been performing in the Twin Cities.  Steven most recently performed in the Guthrie Theater’s A Christmas Carol as an essential, his second year of performing in said show.  He also performed in the Minnesota Orchestra’s production of Otello and Really Spicy Opera’s Rigoletto (Borsa), has worked as a soloist for Encore Winds and was a volunteer chorister / soloist for Vocalessence.  Steven hopes you enjoy the show.


Lydia Wildes – Vittoria

In December, Lydia graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Music from the University of Northwestern, Saint Paul.  This is not only her first show with the GSVLOC, but her first show post-college!  So far, the most exciting thing about entering the real world has been that she is no longer type cast as “the mom.”  Favorite credits include Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, M’Lynn Eatenton in Steel Magnolias, and Madame Giry in Phantom of the Opera.  Recently she dabbled in playwriting and ended her college experience directing her short play, After: Holiday, a post-zombie-apocalypse Christmas drama.  Yes, you read that correctly.  When not rehearsing, she works as a professional cheese grater and curator of endless soup and salad at the Roseville Olive Garden.  A towering 5’11, Lydia is the tallest female cast member in The Gondoliers.


Doug Freeman – Giorgio

Although Doug is no stranger to G&S (it’s easier to list the shows he hasn’t done: Trial by Jury; Utopia, Limited; and The Grand Duke), and he has performed several times at the Howard Conn Theater (A New Brain, Into the Woods, The Music Man, and The Fantasticks, all with Eat Street Players), Doug is pleased as punch to combine the two endeavors for the first time in this production of The Gondoliers with the GSVLOC.  Doug has recently passed his first decade living in the Twin Cities (advancing him from “visitor” to “newcomer”), during which time he has performed with Twin Cities Fringe Opera (Don Giovanni), Skylark Opera (Our Town and Naughty Marietta), and Theater Latté Da (La Bohème).


Deb Haas – Inez

Cast as a pirate (and understudy to Ruth) in The Pirates of Penzance at the tender age of twelve (her voice was lower than most of the males her age), Deb Haas was bitten by the G&S bug too early to deny its siren song.  With “cat-like tread” she sought opportunities to express her inner battle-axe and was rewarded with the role of Katisha in the Saint Olaf College production of The Mikado.  The die was cast and Deb spent the following years pursuing her noble ambition, portraying spinsterish longing and desperation on stages from Oxford University, England, to Minneapolis, to Houston, Texas and back to Minnesota.  This is her eighth show with the GSVLOC.


Jacob Wellington – Annibale

This is Jake’s fifth production with the GSVLOC, having acted in two and assistant directed in two previous productions.  He’s also a brand new father of a happy little baby named Holly!  Holly’s birthday was on January 10, 2017, and she weighed 6 lbs, 12 oz at birth.  Holly and Jake’s favorite pastimes include watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, falling asleep while belting G&S at the piano, twisting tongues with Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Sox, and bouncing … lots of bouncing.  Their fears include being hungry, and crocodiles.  Jake and Holly look forward to the day when Holly can join GSVLOC, because the troop could always use more Hollys!


The Chorus

Joe Allen

This is Joe’s fourth consecutive year performing with the GSVLOC, and the roots are taking hold (send help)!  A proper Joe-of-all-trades, his passions pull him in directions performative, holistic, and philosophical.  Recent theatrical endeavors include: joining the international repertory of Shit-Faced Shakespeare; playing Bert in Mary Poppins (a dream role); producing/directing for the Minnesota Fringe Festival; singing onstage at the Guthrie with GSVLOC in The Events; or picking up supernumerary gigs with Minnesota Opera.  He is most fulfilled when lending his body, soul, voice, and mind to the creative process.  Joe graduated from Hamline University in 2012 with his Bachelor of Arts’ Degrees in Theatre Arts and Philosophy, where he also fulfilled the coursework for a K-12 Theatre Arts Education licensure.  By day, Joe is the Office Manager for Orion Associates where he continues to juggle hats and learn new skills.  By night, his other interests include video and tabletop gaming; reading books, articles, and journals (dystopian sci-fi, high-fantasy, philosophy, and random layman’s academia); studying as an operatic Tenor; recording audio-books with Minnesota State Services for the Blind; robust conversation/debate; and good beer.  Trust me, you’re jealous of his cats.


Mary Bair

Mary is thrilled to be part of The Gondoliers.  She has performed in other shows around the Twin Cities.  Some of her favorites include, 7th House Theater: ThePassage  (Cassie) and Rhinoceros (Mr. Papillon), The Guthrie Theater: To Kill A Mockingbird (Scout), the History Theatre: Working Boys Band (Ensemble) and Youth Performance Company: Sideway Stories from Wayside School (Bebe).  Film: Kid West, an independent feature film (Kid West).  Mary is a member of Colfax Theatre Company and Minneapolis Youth Choir, in partnership with the Minnesota Chorale.  She loves participating in Robotics and Park / Rec sports.  Mary is in Seventh Grade at Barton Open in Minneapolis.  She would like to give a shout out to her grandfather who has come to many GSVLOC productions.  Mary is happy to be part of this fun show.


Jim Brooks

Jim has had the pleasure and privilege of performing with the GSLVOC chorus for the past twenty-four years.  Jim has performed in all of the Gilbert & Sullivan collaborations (He is still hoping for a restaging of the lost operetta Thespis).  When not doing G&S, Jim is the director of the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers and choreographs and calls square and contra dances in the Twin Cities.  He is also a professor at Concordia University – Saint Paul in the College of Education and Science.  Jim’s wife Judy and daughter Julia and been faithful followers of the GSVLOC.  They tolerate Jim’s intense rehearsal schedule each year, but always bring friends and acquaintances to enjoy the shows.


Mary Gregory

The Gondoliers is a wonderful show, and Mary hopes you enjoy seeing this performance as much as she has enjoyed preparing for Opening Night.  This is the third time Mary has performed The Gondoliers with the GSVLOC.  The company has evolved over the years, creating an opportunity for new friendships as the cast and crew work to bring the show to life.  When not on stage, Mary teaches at Tamarack Nature Center in the preschool, where learning about friendship is one of the best things the children can accomplish. “There are big ships and small ships.  But the best ship of all is friendship.”


Liam Hage

Liam made his first appearance on the GSVLOC stage in the company’s 2010 production of The Sorcerer, well hidden under his mother, Lara Trujillo’s, generous Victorian costume.  Since then he has grown up backstage, particularly during last year’s production of Iolanthe, when he got to hang out with “his” fairies and peers when they were offstage.  Liam made his first appearance on stage this past summer, along with his mother, in Mill City Summer Opera’s production of Sweeney Todd.  He first appeared in Act I as a boy being sentenced to death for stealing and then opened Act II as another boy who unknowingly ate his father who had been baked into one of Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies!  No … Sweeney Todd really isn’t a children’s show!  This is Liam’s first visible appearance in a GSVLOC production, sharing the stage with his father … who has recovered nicely, thank you, from being baked into one of Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies!


Stephen Hage

Stephen recently took a DNA test and discovered, to his surprise and delight, that behind his Norwegian façade …he’s actually of 10% Italian descent!  Apparently his Viking ancestors had a lot more fun during their travels than they were willing to let on!  Anyway … appearing in this production of The Gondoliers gives him the opportunity to give voice to his “inner Italian!”  Che bello!  Stephen’s lifelong passion for Gilbert and Sullivan began in the eighth grade, when he was cast as Sir Joseph Porter in his middle school’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore and it has carried him through the years to this staging of The Gondoliers … his thirty-seventh appearance in a G&S production … but then, who’s counting!?  In addition to performing on stage, Stephen serves as the GSVLOC’s Producer.  Stephen has also performed with Bloomington Civic Theater (Artistry) and as a supernumerary with Minnesota Opera.  He enjoys the opportunities that performing in the Opera affords him … to carry spears, to flirt with or rough up world famous sopranos … usually in different operas … and to be killed in battle … sometimes several times in the same opera!  By day, Stephen is responsible for Human Resources for the Orion Associates organization of companies, which he does with his wonderful staff of Human Resources professionals, all the while enjoying far too many cups of coffee.  Stephen is delighted to share the stage in this production with his son, Liam … who grew up backstage, but has now come to appreciate the joys of being on stage.  Stephen dedicates this, and all that he does, to Liam, to his delightful daughters, Lyndsay, Madeleine and Maya, and to his lovely and loving wife, Lara … Lei è quella che mi ispira a fare tutto ciò che faccio!


Andrew “A.J.” Herman

A.J. is thrilled to be back with the GSVLOC in their production of The Gondoliers.  Some of his favorite productions include: Iolanthe, Trump – A Musical Tale, One Man Two Guvnors, and Assassins.  On top of singing, he also loves playing cello, bass, and piano.  When not engaged in musical activity you can usually find him either playing video games, practicing karate, or chilling with his cat.  He would love to thank his family for their constant love and support, and his wonderful girlfriend Katie, for whom he wouldn’t know what to do without.


Shawn Holt

This is Shawn’s eleventh show with the GSVLOC.  She has fun playing a contadine in the chorus.  While she has never piloted a gondola before, she has paddled a canoe in the BWCAW of northern Minnesota and even sang while doing so.  Shawn lives in Shoreview with her cat, Shadow, husband Phil and their thirteen year old daughter Amanda, who is ready for high school next year, even if her mother isn’t!


Kaitlin Klemencic

Kaitlin is delighted to be working alongside the talented members of the GSVLOC once again.  Originally a cheesehead (go Pack), she earned her B.F.A in Theatre Arts and Secondary Education degree from Nebraska Wesleyan University.  After graduation, Kaitlin moved to New York City.  She returned to the Midwest last fall and currently resides in Saint Paul where she works as a nanny.  Previous Minnesota theater credits include Fairy Chorus in Iolanthe (GSVLOC) and Amy in Company (Shoot the Glass Theater).  Infinite amounts of love and thanks to family, friends, Pat and the GSVLOC for this wonderful experience.


Maddy LaRoche

Maddy is so happy to be working with the GSVLOC for a second time, having appeared in last year’s production of Iolanthe … a show very near and dear to her heart as it was the first G&S show she ever sang back in a high school summer program!  Maddy got her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre from The Theatre School at DePaul University.  While in Chicago, she worked with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Emerald City Theatre Company, Big Noise Theatre Company and Drury Lane Theatre.  Her favorite roles include Evelyn Nesbitt in Ragtime, Natalie in Next to Normal, Mary Tilford in The Children’s Hour and Chava in Fiddler on the Roof!


Dean Laurance

Dean has been a chorus member of GSVLOC since its founding in 1979.  Many of the current cast weren’t even born then.  Modern medical procedures and miracle drugs have allowed him to perform at least one more year with the company.  Being the oldest member of the cast, he was awarded the non-speaking, sitting role of “Old Giacopo.”  As a result, he was exempted for most of the dancing which was not unwelcome to him and to any partners who may have been required to dance with him.


Holly MacDonald

This is Holly’s fourth time performing The Gondoliers and it remains one of her favorites.  She was a young contadine when she started but as she has grown “old and crusted” she is now playing the nonna.  When she is not on stage she spends her dolce far niente with her husband, John Orbison.


Anna Maher

Anna is delighted to take the stage in her second show with the GSVLOC, after having a jolly time with wings on in Iolanthe.  She has also performed in the last two Lake Harriet concerts, and tagged along when members of the GSVLOC chorus were selected to sing with The Events at the Guthrie in October of 2015. Anna was spotted last July and August playing Winifred Banks in Saint Anthony Community Theater’s production of Mary Poppins, and can also be seen performing with Minnesota Chorale.  Anna is currently working on a series of certifications from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, and on her Certified Beer Server through the Cicerone Certification Program, and her collection of enormous heavy books and flash cards with funny words on them continues to grow in her tiny apartment, with highlights such as trichloranizole, trockenbeerenauslese, and of course, xeres manzanilla.


Luke McKenty

Luke has performed professionally with the Helena Theatre Company as Mr. Erlanson in A little Night Music, with the Carroll College Theater as Dr. Stan Smith in The Collar, and with the Nashville Opera for five seasons, including a role as Man 1 in the world premiere of Elmer Gantry.  Luke has also been featured as soloist and section leader in several professional choirs.  He has sung locally at Saint Mary of the Lake, Saint Peter’s, as a member of Kantorei and CORO!, Theatre 301, and the Minnesota Chorale.  Luke earned a Master’s degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, where he performed the roles of Emil in O Pioneers and Frank in Our Town, and a Bachelor’s degree in Commercial Music from Belmont University.


Charlotte Morrison

Charlotte has been with the GSVLOC since its second rehearsal — ever!  During her tenure as a member of the chorus, she has given birth to a child, raised four sons, and become a grandparent (one granddaughter and five grandsons).  Charlotte has served on the Company’s Board and now has the dubious honor of managing the box office.  Her original introduction to G&S was in high school as a member of the jury in Trial by Jury.  She has performed with the GSVLOC in all of the operettas written by Gilbert & Sullivan.  During the off-season she enjoys singing with the Saint Mark’s Cathedral Choral Society, nautical pursuits, and travelling to the far corners of the world.


John Orbison

With The Gondoliers, John completes the cycle of G&S operettas, except for the ones that are never (well, hardly ever) performed.  He had hoped to reprise his title role performances in The Pirates of Penzance and The Yeomen of the Guard, but was given the gratifying duty of baker instead.  It may be a sign that he should move on to Sondheim.  A retired math teacher and engineer, brother of Jean Van Heel, GSVLOC Assistant Music Director, and proud father of two adult kids, he enjoys singing in four choral ensembles besides the GSVLOC, playing cello duets with his equally retired wife, and coaching middle school math teams.  Fate has granted him an unbisected, indivisible, recklessly delighted state of “unitee” with GSVLOC alto Holly MacDonald, just the very girl he wanted.


Richard Rames

Richard enjoys “singing choruses in public” and has appeared in the chorus of almost every performance of the GSVLOC at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center since the first production of Patience in 1980.  He also sings regularly in other groups, including the Saint Mark’s Cathedral Choral Society and the Heinrich Schütz Winetasting Homeschool, as well as singing along with his player piano.  This is his fourth production of The Gondoliers.


Eric Pasternack

In real life, Eric is a peripatetic petrophysicist rapidly approaching retirement.  Nobody knows what a petrophysicist is, so he does other more recognizable things for fun, such as singing the second tenor part in the GSVLOC chorus and doing whatever the director tells him to do on stage.  Eric’s first G&S experience was in 1963 as Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard.  Despite that auspicious start, he stayed off the stage for thirty years before joining the chorus of the (late) Texas Gilbert & Sullivan Company from 1994 to 1998.  He joined the GSVLOC in 2000 after moving to the great state of Minnesota.   (Note for the curious:  a petrophysicist evaluates data from oil and gas wells in order to determine how much oil and gas is really down there.  Now you know).  


Sarah Shervey

Sarah is ecstatic to be in her second show with the GSVLOC in the ensemble and as Fiametta’s understudy.  You may have recently seen Sarah in The Little Mermaid (Ariel), Philly The Musical (Sexy Blonde), Beauty and the Beast (Belle), and The Last Five Years (Cathy).  Sarah is excited to be challenged by this incredible show, and to work with this extremely talented cast and production staff!  Enjoy the show!


Rhea Sullivan

Rhea, no know relation to Sir Arthur Sullivan, actually married into the Sullivan name over a quarter century ago.  She found a Sullivan in the GSVLOC (Steve) in 1982 and snapped him up as quickly as possible (1984).  She and Steve have two children with the surname of Sullivan, one a G&S-ophile (Brianna May – Assistant Stage Manager for this production) and one a G&S-ophobe (Jack Frederick – who is named for Jack Point and Frederic, but who stays as far away from the stage as possible).  This marks Rhea’s thirty-fifth year with the company and her fourth production of The Gondoliers