Robert O. Berdahl (Captain Corcoran) and the sailors from the cast of the Guthrie Theater’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore, with additional material by Jeffrey Hatcher. Photo by Michal Daniel
The Guthrie Theater presents the comic musical H.M.S. Pinafore through August 28. The production was the first blockbuster hit by the dynamic duo of Gilbert and Sullivan.
For some critics the show is the perfect tonic for a dull summer – for others it’s simply “gone overboard.” Read these excerpts to get a better sense of the show.
Joe Dowling’s staging of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore” is a deluxe delight. From David Bolger’s arresting choreography for a handsome crew of sailors and Andrew Cooke’s disco arrangements for a live orchestra, to Fabio Toblini’s sumptuous costumes and set designer Frank Hallinan Flood’s tiptop ship deck, the creative team pulled out all the stops.
…Show updates include conductor Cooke’s marriage of Gilbert & Sullivan with Abba-esque beats. Yet the karaoke-sounding parts of the score did not detract from the levity. Choreographer Bolger’s gorgeous moves include a sexy tango by Berdahl and Baldwin (and Alfie Parker Jr. as her subconscious desire). There also is a terrific tap number plus an early dance by Baldwin and nine sailors in one line, each behind the other. Her cleavage-enhancing get-up, not to mention her agile coloratura, suggests that Buttercup is a feminine powerhouse.
…The show’s elements, including falling confetti and a disco ball, help to make this “Pinafore” the comic tonic for our bummer of a summer.
Christina Baldwin (Buttercup) and Tinia Moulder in the Guthrie Theater’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.
Photo by Michal Daniel
When it’s clicking (which is a good chunk of the time), the Guthrie’s H.M.S. Pinafore is a lot of fun–a wild romp through a delightfully silly situation with broadly drawn comic characters and a set of wonderful Gilbert and Sullivan songs. It doesn’t always reach those heights, however, as the production is tied down by a, shall we say, poor choice to “update” the musical accompaniment and make some additions to the story (from local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher) that don’t do much but lengthen the evening without adding anything to it.
…At times, the Joe Dowling-directed production threatens to descend from satire and goofy titillation into baser, Benny Hill territory, and the two sides don’t sit together very well. I get that some of the characters are pompous asses; I don’t need their rumps shoved in my face to sell the point.
Jason Simon (Dick Deadeye) and Christina Baldwin (Buttercup) in the Guthrie Theater’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.
Photo by Michal Daniel
Director Joe Dowling seems more intent on creating a huge spectacle than telling the silly story – and he’s thrown everything he can at it.
The huge cast provides an endless kaleidoscope of noise and movement that begins with the chorus of sailors doing acrobatic flips and cartwheels and dancing across what appears to be the front deck of a coal-burning steamship.
…There’s no way to miss the overblown climax, with lots of huge waving flags, a parade of oversized nautical props and oversized nautical props and confetti shooting wildly into the air. It feels a bit like a Fourth of July celebration – or that moment in Times Square when the ball drops. In fact, the production sometimes so overwhelms the show that it’s a wonder it doesn’t sink the ship.
The cast of the Guthrie Theater’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. PINAFORE, with additional material by Jeffrey Hatcher. Directed by Joe Dowling, choreography and musical staging by David Bolger, set design by Frank Hallinan Flood, costume design by Fabio Toblini, lighting design by Malcolm Rippeth.
Photo by Michal Daniel
The acting is terrific, of course (this is the Guthrie). Ditto the singing; the wonderful G&S music comes through with resounding intensity. As the lovers Heather Lindell and Aleks Knezevich sing gorgeously and their scenes together are very funny. Robert O. Berdahl amazes as the Captain – although his physical, out-there approach caused me to occasionally fear for his mental health. Peter Thomson excels as Admiral Porter, with his potbelly and his goofy skipping dance. I adored Christina Baldwin as not-so-aptly-named Buttercup; perhaps it’s because her performance is relatively straightforward. It all works well. Indeed, high-energy/low-camp is emerging as a dominant Guthrie style: witness the recent 39 Steps and (to a lesser extent) Arms And The Man. These artists do it as well as it’s ever been done.
Does this approach please your Intrepid Reviewer? It does not. He has an allergy to performers who want us to believe they’re better than the play. He also suffers from great respect for traditional Gilbert and Sullivan.
But is the Guthrie’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore well done? It is. In fact, it’s beautifully done, as evidenced by the wildly enthusiastic reaction of the opening night audience. They applauded after every song and leapt to their feet for a standing ovation.
Have you seen the Guthrie Theater’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore? If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.