Victorian Lyric Opera Company (VLOC) is famous for producing a full spectrum of comic operas, some of them little performed and less widely known. Such is not the case with the “H.M.S. Pinafore,” one of the most famous of the collaborations of Sir W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. The current production is outstanding in its musical performances, comic acting, and staging.
…outstanding in its musical performances, comic acting, and staging…VLOC delivers…in royal fashion.
Subtitled “The Lass That Loved a Sailor,” the plot revolves around Josephine, the daughter of the “gallant captain” of the H.M.S. Pinafore, and her romance with Ralph Rackstraw, a lowly sailor who “ploughs the water.” Unfortunately, as the Pinafore “sails the ocean blue,” her father, Captain Corcoran, seeks to marry her to the Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty.
Despite his own efforts at social climbing in the interests of his daughter, the Captain himself is smitten, though guardedly so, with Little Buttercup, a woman of far lower station than himself. Buttercup returns his affection, warning him: “You hold aloof from me because you are rich and lofty—and I, poor and lowly. But take care! […] There is a change in store for you!” The storyline thus cleverly calls into question the exaggerated focus on the class system in British society in the nineteenth century. Yet it is the raucous comedy and glorious music which draw audiences to board the Pinafore in the 21st century, and the VLOC delivers this entertainment cargo in royal fashion.
The standout singer of the production is Jillian Wiley as Josephine, with beautifully sung arias such as “Sorry Her Lot Who Loves Too Well” and “The Hours Creep on Apace.” Soprano Wiley’s duet with fine tenor Andy Boggs (portraying Ralph Rickshaw) in “Refrain, Audacious Tar” is also a magical musical moment. Shannen Knapp as Buttercup sings a wonderful “I’m Called Little Buttercup.”
As for comic characters, Rob Ritter is a wonderful Deadeye Dick, swaggering on (and at one being thrown off) the deck. (Bob Gudauskas will be portraying Deadeye June 16-18.) Michael Galizia makes for a delightfully pompous Sir Joseph, and Stephen Yednock fills Captain Corcoran’s vacillating role—vacillating between arrogance and obsequiousness—to perfection.
As in the best of Gilbert and Sullivan, the music and comedy mix in especially agreeable ways. One such case is the choruses sung by Sir Joseph’s female relatives (“his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!”) Another is the trio of Josephine, the Captain, and Sir Joseph in “Never Mind the Why and Wherefore.” VLOC shifts expertly between G&S slapstick and urbane silliness on the one hand and the literary wit of many of the lyrics on the other: “Fair moon, to thee I sing,/ Bright regent of the heavens,” warbles Captain Corcoran. “Say, why is everything/ Either at sixes or at sevens?”
The stage likewise segues between the simple and the highly aesthetic. In Act I, a realistic ship’s deck is presented, and in Act II, the stage space is dominated by stylized full-moon-and-star projections. Set designer Bill Pressly and lighting designer Jordan Hersh have earned praise for both of these visions. I especially enjoyed the gorgeous Victorian fashions of costume designer Becca Janney. The direction of Helen Aberger and the conducting of Stevie Miller round out a highly enjoyable production which is strongly recommended, both for those new to Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas and for those who are already confirmed fans.
Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
“H.M.S. Pinafore” runs through June 18, 2023 presented by the Victorian Lyric Opera Company at The F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, Rockville Civic Center, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville, M 20851. For more information and to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at (240) 314-8690 or go online. Masks are not required.