If Appellate Judge James A. Stewart ever elopes, he's leaving the chorus at home.
"Love is a platform on which all ranks meet."—Sir Joseph Porter
William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan first brought the mixture of mockery, music, and marriage known as H.M.S. Pinafore to stage at the Opera Comique in 1878. The Guthrie Theater in Minnesota brought its version, updated with swing and pop flourishes, to the stage in the summer of 2011. Their H.M.S. Pinafore recently got a PBS airing and is now out on DVD.
In the story, Josephine (Heather Lindell, Rubicon), the daughter of the captain of the H.M.S. Pinafore, loves lowly sailor Ralph Rackstraw (Aleks Knezevich), but her father's trying to arrange a marriage for her with Sir Joseph Porter (Peter Thomson, Here on Earth), the ruler of the Queen's Navy. Porter, naturally, makes Josephine "seasick," but she's strongly considering the benefits of his position. Love wins out over lust for a comfortable life, so Josephine and Rackstraw plan to elope. Meanwhile, the Captain (Robert O. Berdahl, Private Eyes) pines for Little Buttercup (Christina Baldwin, Flourtown), a peddler woman.
H.M.S. Pinafore's plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense (not that it's supposed to), but the original Gilbert and Sullivan satirical jabs at the upper class and the tension between material comfort and love in relationships hit their targets. The Captain's objections to his daughter marrying a sailor ("He would drop his h's and eat peas with a knife") and Sir Joseph's pomposity ("Stick close to your desks and never go to sea, and you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navy") are among the bits that draw laughs as they draw comic blood.
When the singers are centerstage, this H.M.S. Pinafore sails close to the original Gilbert and Sullivan. However, stuff like "Flight 76," the updated reworking of "Flight of the Bumblebee," might come to mind as you listen to the orchestra. In a couple of places, it seems just loud for the sake of being loud, but it's effective more often than not. I also noticed a couple of places where the dialogue got a little friskier than what I recall of Gilbert and Sullivan.
The performances are good, albeit very broad. Standouts include Berdahl as the Captain, who exudes ridiculousness with every gesture or line reading; Baldwin as Little Buttercup, who makes her character lusty and fiery; and Jason Simon as Dick Deadeye, the self-described "fat, misshapen, and aromatic as a sailor's bunk" sailor who feels obligated to rat out the eloping couple.
The ship set looks realistic, even as the goings-on are less so and the television presentation clearly shows it as onstage at the Guthrie Theater. It's shown off with a clear, crisp picture.
One thing did annoy me about PBS' presentation of H.M.S. Pinafore on DVD. Throughout the show, there are onscreen teasers to features on the PBS web site that didn't make it into the DVD extras. All you get here is a brief backstage peek and a rundown of the Minneapolis-St. Paul arts scene.
I'm not sure of the need for updating the classic operetta, but H.M.S. Pinafore works well here. Since it's almost bare-bones, I'm guessing it's aimed at libraries and the like. If you missed it on PBS, it's worth a trip to the library.
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