“H.M.S. Pinafore” is the tale of a humble sailor in love with his captain’s daughter, while the captain’s heart in turn is sought by a lowly “bumboat woman” who hawks her wares on board his ship. Ultimately, father and daughter both must decide whether to pursue their hearts’ desires or ignore their longings in favor of the status quo.
Hearing Jennifer Ashworth sing the part of captain’s daughter Josephine is alone worth the price of admission to this delightful, high-caliber production. Ashworth exudes celebration, for example in “Nevermind the Why and Wherefore,” but equally embodies the emotional tension in straining to decide between her privileged lifestyle and true love, as in “The Hours Creep On Apace.”
Aaron Gallington, in his Lamplighters debut, is equally strong as young Ralph Rakestraw, the sailor who pines for Josephine. Both lead players dazzle in their most powerful numbers, though Ashworth’s character has the greater opportunity in this romantic tale.
Love blossoms in other corners of the “saucy” Pinafore as well. Sir Joseph (Lawrence Ewing) may seek the hand of the captain’s daughter, but everything in his life, including his decision to marry, has been about political and economic gain — and so it is with his courting of the high-mannered Josephine. One kiss from the right girl, however, will turn him around in the end.
Sonia Gariaeff is sweet as Buttercup, the humble but amorous hawker of wares, and Cabiria Jacobsen, another player in her Lamplighters debut, is brightly animated as Cousin Hebe, who also has designs on a man who is slow to notice her affections.One especially entertaining character in Pinafore is Dick Deadeye (Charles Martin), the one sailor who doesn’t shy away from pointing out to everyone the obvious truths they’d rather ignore, despite the promise of verbal and physical abuse upon doing so. Martin lends the role of Deadeye its full dramatic and comedic flair.
Jonathan Spencer is Captain Corcoran, beloved leader of the good ship Pinafore. He is jolly and good, respected and beloved by his crew — that is, until they learn that he would punish their mate for his audacity in daring to proclaim romantic feelings for his daughter.
It seems the Lamplighters will never disappoint. The players all seem to fully enjoy the silly, exaggerated stereotypes they portray, without a hint of apology. The orchestra is equally jovial and polished and the costumes are magnificent — designed and created by an extensive team of specialists in make-up, hair, wigs and dress.
Even the sets are outstanding. But in this current production, the troupe has outdone itself.
Ashworth leads a highly proficient cast. Her exquisite voice dances above the rest, but the “rest” are powerful as well, all of them no doubt capable of commanding a lead role in their turn.
The Gilbert and Sullivan style of operetta is not everybody’s cup of tea. It’s silly and old-fashioned, and the humor is simple and obvious. But that clean kind of presentation allows audiences the freedom to easily relate the characters’ preposterous attributes to their own experiences, without having all the nuances spelled out for them.
One thing the Lamplighters do spell out for us is the unique vocabulary of the 19th-century Gilbert and Sullivan musical world. Programs include a glossary page, listing words such as “boatswain,” “catchy-catchies” and “fo’c’sle” (shortened form of “forecastle,” a raised deck in the bow of a ship). Supertitles also display lyrics on a monitor situated above center-stage.
Major roles in Pinafore are shared, so you may not see the same actors in every show, and accompanying photos may not represent the players described in this review.
Catch a video clip of Pinafore on the Lamplighters website (www.lamplighters.org), then go and see this unique and lavish production at one of the remaining venues in its current run, continuing this weekend at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts and moving on to San Francisco and Livermore from there.
“Then give three cheers, and one cheer more, for the Captain of the Pinafore!”
If You Go
“H.M.S. Pinafore” continues at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts on Aug. 8-9; the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, on Aug. 14-16; and the Bankhead Theatre, Livermore, on Aug. 22-23. Tickets are $20 to $59 and are available by calling 415-227-4797 or online at www.lamplighters.org.
Elizabeth Warnimont is a freelance writer specializing in the performing arts. She holds a bachelor’s degree in literature from UC-Santa Barbara.