Review of H.M.S. Pinafore
By W.S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan
Directed by James Dunn
Musical Direction by Jef Labes
Choreography by Sandra Tanner
For tickets / schedule :
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross Valley Players
RUN: November 17 – December 18, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars
(November 18, 2016)
Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas carry a whimsical, larger than life tone similar to short stories in a turn-of-the-century Punch magazine. Heroines are sweet and doe-eyed, villains are mustache twirling caricatures, and young star-crossed lovers find their happy ending through a twist of fate. In H.M.S. Pinafore, the daughter of the captain falls hopelessly in love with a common sailor, while her father plots to marry her off to the bumbling Sir Joseph Porter. All is well in a hopeful, if confusing, deus ex machina finale.
Ross Valley Players excel with set design; Ron Krempetz recreates the deck of a Royal Navy ship complete with portholes, hatches that are actual stage entrances, ladders, and guns, inviting the audience onto the ship with its crew. Sandra Tanner’s choreography uses the confined space well, creating patterns that add to the comic charm of musical numbers, rather than relying on flashy steps and soloists. Since the ensemble has a variety of dance abilities, she keeps it simple, creating a strong unity between characters. Michael Berg’s sailor costumes have a clean white cut to them with a splash of color, similar to George Balanchine’s Union Jack. Josephine’s late 1910s dresses are becoming and suit her personality, making up for the other women, who are arrayed in less definitive eras of costuming.
Gilbert & Sullivan can be a tongue-twister to sing, with libretto such as, “I always voted at my party’s call, and I never thought of thinking for myself at all.” It requires clear enunciation while maintaining a pleasing tone simultaneously—no mean feat. For the most part, the cast manages to balance the two. Sibel Demirmen’s Josephine is angelic and riveting, her voice exquisite and poised, as a proper captain’s daughter should be. Cordell Wesselink’s Ralph Rackstraw adroitly parodies the saccharine melodies of his romantic lead. The key with this type of musical is to take the character utterly seriously, and that over-enthusiastic ardor becomes the scene’s comedy. Jim Fye’s Dick Deadeye will entertain children in attendance—his sinister expressions, curled fingers, and crouching stance create a fun mischief-maker in the crew. Despite prop difficulties, Fye did not break character, turning it into part of the story instead. A standout was Dana Cherry as Cousin Hebe, who’s expressive eyes, dazzling smile, and flirtatious advances at Sir Joseph are cause for hilarity. Heather Werkheiser’s Little Buttercup is rosy cheeked and energetic, even when in the background of a scene reacting to the main action.
Ross Valley Players frolic with maritime lovers in this delightful production of H.M.S. Pinafore. Bring your sisters, and cousins, and aunts to a lighthearted evening of clever satire. If this is your first time at a Gilbert & Sullivan play, prepare for frivolity, ridiculous plot points, asides to the audience, and songs based on repetition from the chorus for comedic effect. As Sir Joseph would suggest, don’t think too much about it, sit back and enjoy the tomfoolery as it unfolds.