Review: ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’ at Victorian Lyric Opera Company

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Conundrums seem to be Gilbert and Sullivan’s specialty. Their most famous works, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, explore the comic antics that ensue when seemingly simple people are thrown into chaos when a series of conundrums come their way. This template for success all started with the pair’s breakout hit, H.M.S. Pinafore, which is currently being revived with great charm by the Victorian Lyric Opera Company under the direction of Catherine Huntress-Reeve.

The cast. Photo by Harvey Levine.
The cast. Photo by Harvey Levine.

Compared to most of their operettas, H.M.S. Pinafore is pretty straightforward. The lowly sailor Ralph Rackstraw (David Merrill) is in love with his captain’s daughter Josephine (Amy Broadbent), but the vast difference in class prevents them from being together. While her father Captain Corcoran (G. Stephen Stokes) attempts to negotiate a marriage between his daughter and the Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter (Gary Sullivan), he finds himself in a similar predicament as he begins falling for the poor Little Buttercup (Amanda Jones). It is in the details where the antics begin to occur. Mistaken identities, scheming cousins, and some hornpipes for good measure all help to bring this comedy to fruition.

The first thing to catch your eye when entering the theatre is the impressive set by William Pressly. A full-scale deck complete with wheel and climbable rigging leave quite a first impression coupled with the beautiful lighting designed by A. Dawson Smith. The second thing you notice is the full orchestra warming up under the music direction of Joseph Sorge. Conducted by Rebecca Henry at the performance I attended, their rousing sound invigorated the audience throughout the night. The icing on this beautiful decorated cake is the costumes by Denise Young. Reeve’s inspired choice to move the production to 1912 (to parallel the sailing of the great Titanic) allows Young to explore the grace of the period through her marvelous pieces. The ladies’ gowns are a feast for the eyes while the sailors are bedecked in crisp whites and well-cut suits.

Ralph Rackstraw (David Merrill) and Josephine (Amy Broadbent). Photo by Harvey Levine.
Ralph Rackstraw (David Merrill) and Josephine (Amy Broadbent). Photo by Harvey Levine.

Matching the beauty of the Gilbert and Sullivan score are the fantastic singers on the stage. Merrill’s mellifluous sound perfectly captured his yearning for the love of the beautiful Josephine in his features “The Nightingale” and “A Maiden Fair to See.” Broadbent, the very picture of an ingénue, is as sharp and clear as a crystal as she soars through “Sorry the Lot.” Stokes with an earthy, almost gruff tone compliments the light patter of Sullivan in their feature “Never mind the why and wherefore.”Jones’ warmth and color shines through in her opening solo “I’m Called Little Buttercup” and explodes with mystic appeal in “Things are seldom what they seem.” The chorus should be congratulated for both their vocals and their dancing feet as they waltz and jig their way through Helen Aberger’s choreography.

For those of you who are not fans of classical singing, I challenge you to come down to Rockville and be enchanted by this delightful company. They take the fun and frivolity of H.M.S. Pinafore to heart and weave it into an entertaining tale.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

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H.M.S. Pinafore plays through June 19, 2016, at The Victorian Lyric Opera Company performing at The F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville Civic Center Park – 603 Edmonston Drive in Rockville, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 314-8690, buy them at the box office 2 hours before each performance, or purchase them online.

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