Story: Poor Ralph Rackstraw. He’s just a common seaman serving aboard Her Majesty’s Ship Pinafore in the Royal British Navy, but he’s deeply in love with his commanding captain’s daughter, Josephine. Captain Corcoran is a straight-up, fine fellow, to be sure. However, he also insists on the separation of classes, and as such has plans for Josephine to marry the Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter, KBC, First Lord of the Admiralty.
Josephine herself believes in the strict adherence to duty, even though she loves Ralph and has no amorous feelings whatsoever toward the older, stuffy Sir Joseph, who most always is accompanied by an “admiring crowd of sisters, cousins and aunts.” That group includes his patrician cousin Hebe, who is fiercely loyal to Sir Joseph.
Captain Corcoran does his best to treat his men well and they agree that he’s a right proper chap who “almost never” loses his temper or swears. An amiable bumboat woman (vendor) named Little Buttercup frequently greets the sailors when they dock in Portsmouth. She’s especially kind to the captain, who notes that she is a “plump and pleasant person.”
It’s a happy enough crew, except for the black cloud which hangs over seaman Dick Deadeye, a self-acknowledged ‘ugly’ fellow who sees the cup as half full. Dick observes the affection shared by Ralph and Josephine and disapproves. When he overhears their plans to elope, based on Sir Joseph’s own proclamation that all men are equal (except to him, of course), Dick informs the captain.
Will Captain Corcoran intervene and insist that his daughter marry Sir Joseph? Will Sir Joseph follow through on his intentions to shackle Ralph and have him thrown in the brig? Will Little Buttercup reveal the big secret she’s often hinted about in conversations in the past? Set sail with the crew and discover the truth.
Highlights: Union Avenue Opera opens its 24th season with its inaugural production of the first international hit for longtime collaborators Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert. Stage director Eric Gibson enlists a merry crew of polished performers who mine the plentiful laughs in this comic opera, while artistic director and conductor Scott Schoonover and his musicians bring out the jolly good feelings in the light-hearted score.
Other Info: H.M.S. Pinafore was the fourth operatic collaboration between composer Sullivan and lyricist Gilbert, enjoying the second-longest run of any musical theater piece in London at the time it closed in 1879 after 571 performances.
Juxtaposing the word for a girl’s garment for the name of the ship opposite the tradition of a rough and tumble maritime outfit signals from the start that this is a comic opera. It features some silly coincidences favored by Gilbert which add to the frothy nature of the work, albeit one with considerable style.
Gibson’s intrepid cast is up to the musical requirements, highlighted by Leann Schuering’s magnificent soprano as Josephine. Anthony Heinemann puts his sturdy tenor voice to fine use as Josephine’s devoted love, Ralph Rackstraw, and the two make for a fetching pair in this musical romp.
Steven Condy is a marvel as he flawlessly skips through several patter songs in Gilbert’s signature fashion, even throwing in an amusing updated verse about venturing ‘across the pond’ to observe the foibles of someone beating the drum about making America great again. Condy’s Sir Joseph is a vacuous fop, albeit a generally agreeable one, which Condy underscores with mannerisms and speech.
Katherine Calcamuggio holds sway on Kyra Bishop Sanford’s nautically-themed set design as the irrepressible Little Buttercup, an amusing appellation given Buttercup’s commanding stature. Thomas Gunther does well as the proper Captain Corcoran, while Jacob Lassetter has great fun as the show’s villain, although Dick Deadeye is more a drip than a demon.
Erin Haupt fills the bill as imperious Cousin Hebe, Jason Mallory portrays boatswain’s mate Bill Bobstay and Randell McGee is carpenter’s mate Bob Becket.
Backing up the primary players in swell style are members of the engaging ensemble, which includes Abby Benson, Danielle Feinstein, Grace Fisher, David Goldman, Christina Kruger, Jason Mallory, Randell McGee, Sarah Paitz, Mark Saunders, Philip Touchette, Louisa Wimmer and Benjamin Worley as sundry “sisters, cousins and aunts” of Sir Joseph and the ship's crew.
Andy Vieluf provides satisfactory lighting of the set and Teresa Doggett costumes the players in an array of amusing outfits, including one to match Sir Joseph’s pompous demeanor and fine frills for fair Josephine.
It’s silly sailing on the sea and misadventures in the Portsmouth harbor, but Union Avenue Opera’s H.M.S. Pinafore is a breezy excursion in times of troubled waters.
Opera: H.M.S. Pinafore
Company: Union Avenue Opera
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Blvd.
Dates: July 13, 14
Tickets: $30 to $55; contact 361-2881 or unionavenueopera.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb