H.M.S. Pinafore Review

The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company is currently performing H.M.S. Pinafore; or, The Lass That Loved a Sailor in Minneapolis. I attended the performance on opening night, March 6th.  It is a success: a faithful presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s first major triumph, with lovely singing and amusing acting.

Most of the principals were very strong singers. “The nightingale,” sung by Ralph Rackstraw (Kai Brewster), and “Sorry her lot,” sung by Josephine (Victoria Valencour), were especially beautiful. Brewster’s and Valencour’s voices also complemented each other well when they sang together later. The crowd-pleasing introductory song by Sir Joseph (Tom Berg), “When I was a lad,” was particularly enjoyable. As singers and comic actors, Dick Deadeye (Ryan Johnson) and Cousin Hebe (Amanda Weis) added to the fun that characterized every aspect of this production.

This production is set during World War II; the time period requires the substitution of “King’s Navy” for “Queen’s Navy,” but I noticed no other changes to the lyrics.  In a nod to the setting, the second act opened with Captain Corcoran (Waldyn Benbenek) tuning into a BBC broadcast of “popular music,” which led into the ballad “Fair moon, to thee I sing” arranged in the fashion of a 1940s jazz piece; Benbenek’s performance of the arrangement was delightful. While the Guthrie’s 2011 Pinafore frustrated me because of its many changes to the orchestration (and to the plot near the end), this production struck a pleasing balance: it is a traditional rendition of a classic with a few tasteful, period-inspired adjustments.

The men’s and women’s choruses were strong in singing, acting, and dancing. There were a few brief moments when the backstage orchestra and the singers were not quite in sync, but these moments did not detract from my enjoyment of the music, and I expect that coordination will improve as the run continues. The orchestra played skillfully, under the baton of conductor Randal A. Buikema.

This Pinafore offers an enjoyable outing for fans of Gilbert and Sullivan, lovers of nineteenth-century culture, and anyone who likes to laugh.

H.M.S. Pinafore; or, The Lass That Loved a Sailor runs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through March 29th at The Howard Conn Fine Arts Center in Plymouth Congregational Church. Several of the shows are sold out already; it is advisable to purchase tickets sooner rather than later. The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company will also perform a concert version of Pinafore at the Lake Harriet Bandshell on July 11th and 12th.

-Leslie Nightingale

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