When I hear the word operetta, I cringe a little on the inside.
Yet despite my personal feelings towards the genre, I enjoyed the Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s production of “H.M.S. Pinafore,” otherwise known as “The Lass That Loved a Sailor.”
In a nutshell, the set was simple and effective, the choreography light and gay, and the singing operatic yet not Wagnerian.
This is the directorial debut of Jonathan Breit ’06, but many of the cast members have appeared in opera or operetta performances before, a fact that is clear in the all-around solid (if not unified) performances.
Breit, who also designed the set, is a competent director, yet not strong enough to make the show truly shine. He is not able to concentrate on one style of acting. While some performers played to the inherently larger-than-life characters in a way befitting of operetta, others played the parts as if they were in a play, or perhaps a musical.
A Gilbert and Sullivan operetta has distinct features that mark it as such, and it seems that Breit, while perhaps aware of this, was not able to make this concept clear to his cast.
But this is not to say that the show does not have spectacular moments with some very talented performers.
Danielle Ryan ’06 (who also choreographs the show) is a wonderful Josephine. Her arias are compelling, and she plays the part with an acute understanding of Josephine’s power.
David McIntosh ’07, as Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B. — for Knight Commander of the Bath — also does a marvelous job. He is as affected as the genre calls for, although at points it would be better if he reigns in some of his laughter.
Perhaps the weakest of the cast was Turner Fishpaw ’06 as Ralph Rackstraw. Vocally, Fishpaw was great, and no complaints can be made about his clear, beautiful tone. It is in his acting that he falls flat. Fishpaw, while not a bad actor, does not play to the level that most of the other principals do. While Ryan and McIntosh are delightful caricatures, Fishpaw is too humble and true to life, something more suited for a Rodgers and Hammerstein show.
There are a few things that keep “Pinafore” from being truly amazing. One is the dancing, or, to be more specific, the dancing sailors. The men of the cast never seem to be able to match the patter of their feet with the patter of Gilbert’s lyrics. Ryan’s choreography is appropriate to the show and works very well, and it is a shame that it is not executed as well as possible.
Another major problem are characters’ accents. Not only was there no specific “English” accent that the members of the show could agree on, actors constantly fell in and out of their accents, making them more painful than they are worth. One must wonder whether it would have been possible to scrap the accents entirely, even in a show where the accent seems to be an inherent, integral part of the show.
Overall, “Pinafore” delivers. Though I went in with initial misgivings, when the house lights came up at the end, I understood why people (like this cast and crew) enjoy the style so much, even though I did not become an instant Gilbert and Sullivan devotee. There is an obvious love for the material inherent in the production, and it definitely adds to the show.
If you like opera or operetta, or don’t have strong feelings either way, go see “H.M.S. Pinafore.” It is an entertaining, well-done production of a genre that may be dated, but is still admired by many.
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