H.M.S. Pinafore Another Wonderful Production From GSVLO

Show Poster for H.M.S Pinafore

I don’t talk about my companions for shows very often but I think this one is a good exception as it illustrates how universal the appeal of the productions by The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company (GSVLOC) can be. My plus one for H.M.S. Pinafore was the girlfriend of my oldest son, a 20 year old woman for whom this is her 4th show, aside from vaguely remembering seeing something in Junior High. Someone who has not been exposed to any form of Opera directly. Now I’ve said in previous reviews of GSVLOC that the Gilbert & Sullivan oeuvre is a link between traditional opera and the modern musical and as thus a nice introduction to novices. My seatmate enjoyed it immensely and ranked it second of the four shows she’s seen, all of which have been in the last 30 days. Now not every young person is as open to being exposed to new things theatrically, but if they express an interest you can be confident they are going to find it entertaining and engaging and most importantly accessible, no prior Opera experience needed. H.M.S. Pinafore is silly in the best G&S tradition and the large cast are all in step with the tone and tongue in cheek nature of the work. As always, the GSVLOC lean into a modern sensibility without losing sight of the creators intentions, taking minor but clever liberties with the occasional dialogue or lyric. Featuring a cast of nearly three dozen, the sound of both vocals and orchestra are thrillingly note perfect.

H.M.S. Pinafore was the first of many successes of the treasured duo of Arthur Sullivan, who wrote the music, and W.S. Gilbert who wrote the Librettos. Premiering in 1878 it led to an off again on again partnership which created a body of work so beloved that there are theater companies who solely produce their work. Set entirely on the British navel ship of the title, it’s a tale lovers kept apart by class, parents, and rivals. As much a satire of the Royal Navy and the British class system, as a story of star crossed lovers. The humor flows from the absurdities inherent in all of these targets, and the resolution is right out of one of Shakespeare convoluted comedies. The plot hardly matters, it’s the execution that makes the work sing.

The sound of both vocals and orchestra are thrillingly note perfect.

A cast so large cannot be singled out particularly when each voice is essential in creating the wonderful sound of this superb production. But, there are a couple of favorites to mention. Kaoru Shoji who plays Josephine, the heroine of the show has a wonderful voice and and excellent stage presence. She really shines performing with Scott A. Gorman as her father and Scott Benson as the First Lord of the Admiralty as they all think they have agreed to a belief that will get them what they want though they are at cross purposes. Benson is hilarious as the idiot in charge of the Navy who’s never been to sea and hilariously, can’t even draw his sword without help from his cousin. Anthony T. Rohr is in fine voice as Ralph Rackstraw Josephine’s Sailor love and Josh Conroy’s deep rich voice is as powerful vocally as his character Dick Deadeye is repulsive to his fellow shipmates, which is to say very!

Music Director and Conductor Randal A. Buikema deserves high praise, it’s not often that I enjoy An Overture, I’m usually wishing the show would just begin already. But This Overture was so joyful and upbeat and beautifully rendered, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Gary Briggle directs the show finding a way to somehow have 30 people of stage at the same time without tripping all over themselves, but actually always appearing like they were exactly where they should be. His directorial touch is light and filled with humorous touches throughout including his clever cell phone lyrics before the show begins. Set Designer and Scenic Painter Wendy Waszut-Barrett has created a splendid set complete with riggings for the sails and a spinning steering wheel. Costume Designer Barb Portinga does a good job considering she’s dressing such a large cast, a few of the sailers costumes are a little ill fitting but it works as they a relatively shapeless uniforms anyway. 

H.M.S. Pinafore runs through November 19th at The Conn Theater in South Minneapolis. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://gsvloc.org/on-stage/

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Headshot of Rob Dunkelberger
Rob Dunkelberger

Rob is a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers and their podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat as well as a syndicating contributor to Minnesota Playlist. Read all his content www.thestagesofmn.com