H.M.S. Pinafore: This Saucy Ship's a Beauty
At the recent matinee of H.M.S. Pinafore at City Center, I saw something that both heartened and unnerved me: the audience was filled with a veritable boatload of children. The sight reminded me of my own childhood; for weeks after seeing a production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic by the local Light Opera Company, I ceaselessly did what was, to my seven year old mind, a hilarious impersonation of Sir Joseph Lord Admiral of the Queens' Navy.
I was a rather strange child.
I was pleased to think that other urchins were being similarly corrupted by patter songs and funny hats. My nervousness, of course, stemmed from the possibility that the legion of children might start working on their own operatic impressions, loudly, whilst the show was still going on.
I needn't have worried. All the children near me were very well behaved, thanks to a combination of good parenting and engrossing entertainment. The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players are in their 32nd season of bringing witty words, sprightly tunes, and overwhelming Englishness to the city. This season the repertory ensemble, under both the direction and baton of Albert Bergeret, presented a one-night gala called Quintessential G&S, Asiatic satire The Mikado, and seafaring favorite H.M.S. Pinafore.
Pinafore takes place on the eponymous ship of the British Fleet. The fluffy plot concerns Josephine (Charlotte Detrick), the plucky daughter of popular Captain Corcoran (played at this performance by Keith Jurosko). She is in love with able sailor Ralph Rackstraw (Brian Kuchta), but has been promised to The Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty (Stephen O'Brien). Will the lass follow her heart and escape with her beloved lowly tar, or ascend the social ladder? There are also colorful comedic characters Little Buttecup (Angela Smith) (described by the smitten captain as "a plump and pleasing person") and the conniving sailor Dick Deadeye (Louis Dall'Ava). A suitably absurd twist at the end sets things right.
This Pinafore is a sturdy vessel. The whole operetta takes place on one serviceable deck set, whose design is credited in the program to Albere (presumably the multitasking Albert Bergeret). The stouthearted but light footed men of the sailors' chorus are led by William Whitefield as Boatswains' Mate Bill Bobstay. Mr. Whitefield is a standout performer, with a wonderful voice and an infectious enthusiasm. As Buttercup, Ms. Smith too short in the tooth for the role (though someone has tried to fix this with a rather unfortunate wig), but she has a lovely contralto and friendly stage presence. As our distraught young lovers, Ms. Detrick and Mr. Kuchta are both sweet, with the heroine giving a particularly beautiful vocal performance. Mr. O'Brien is deliciously portentous and befuddled as Sir Joseph, and if there is an award for "Most Determined Use of Monocle", he deserves it. However, the show belongs to the delightful Keith Jurosko as the Captain, who runs the gamut from loving father to saucy derrier fancier to zany underling with perfect timing and hilarious facial reactions, all the while singing with impeccable diction and beautiful tone.The show stopping trio "Never Mind the Why and Wherefore" features The Captain, his daughter, and his Lordship getting progressively drunk on champagne, sight gags with giant bells, and increasingly absurd tempos. They truly "rend the air with warbling wild".
Another "cast member" who deserves mention is director/conductor Mr. Bergeret. There are a number of very funny moments when he interacts with those onstage, trying to get O'Briens' attention or being threatened by Detrick and Jurosko with a musket. I was surprised mischievous maestro he didn't leap from the pit and take a song for himself.
Production values are mixed. Though costumer Gail J. Wofford gives us a brilliantly attired sailors and officers, she could have done better by her leading ladies. Josephines' machine-lace first act dress was frankly appalling. Lighting, too, was hit and miss; Sally Smalls' design seemed to leave the stage far too dark whenever a ballad was sung.
These are small concerns, however. Mssr. Bergeret and Co. have a production that is theatrically engaging and musically exceptional. Gilbert and Sullivan is not everyone's cup of tea, and this production is not likely to win over any of the party poopers. It may, however, kindle an appreciation for the gorgeous lunacy of G&S in the young folk who where sitting near me, smiling, enjoying their introduction into this topsy turvy world of operetta.
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg
Top: Keith Jurosko as Captain Corcoran, Angela Smith as Little Buttercup, and Stephen O'Brien as Sir Joseph Porter
Middle: Louis Dall'Ava as Dick Deadeye, Angela Smith as Little Buttercup, Stephen O'Brien as Sir Joseph Porter, Keith Jurosko as Captain Corcoran
BottomLouis Dall'Ava, Angela Smith, Keith Jurosko, Stephen O'Brien, Laurleyn Watson, Stephen Quint & conductor Albert Bergeret