It has become more apparent that as calamities around the planet continue to escalate (Brexit, Syria, Trump, Boko Haram, Manchester…) present-day theatre is listing heavily to the side of farce (earlier this week manifesting itself during Twelfth Night—cross reference below), perhaps in 2-3 hours of art sprinkled with silliness, which the creators may not have intended, will leave patrons feeling better about themselves before rejoining “civilized” society awaiting reports of the next atrocity.
Artistic trusts—realizing how “fake news” captured the imagination, beliefs and votes of millions—have knowingly embraced the bawdy, crude and gross side to entice those same “the media are liars” into the theatre by seriously reworking the premise of the original scripts, an example of which can be found at the Shaw festival’s The Madness of George III—cross-reference below).
Having conducted HMS Pinafore dozens of times in my performing days, I—necessarily—bring my “hands dirty” experience with this show to my—since 2001—critic’s view of director Lezlie Wade’s production. She is blessed by having a stellar cast and crew (save and except for conductor Franklin Brasz—more on that below) to interpret her vision for one of the finest pillories of class distinction and unequivocal love ever written.
Having the Rt. Honourable Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty donning a life jacket for much of his role (Laurie Murdoch doing the honours) got the easy laugh but weakened the well-planned character development by instantly announcing: “This man is a fool.”
Asking Cousin Hebe (Glynis Ranney) to barf long and deep as an expression of her disdain, tickled the funny bones of many but devolved this “smart” comedy into the sewers of the Hangover franchise.
Using the twin doors on the Pinafore as madcap, literal revolutionaries (invoking memories of the window gags from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In) was fun at first but quickly slipped into predictably tiresome.
Fortunately, the voices and dancers made up for the yuk-yuk quibbles.
As Captain Corcoran, Steve Ross gave one of the finest performances yet seen in this pivotal role: timing, vocal chops and a visage that spoke volumes further cemented his exemplary skills already on view in the previous evening’s Guys and Dolls. More, please.
Jennifer Rider-Shaw was also a most convincing Josephine, making apparent child’s play of the vocally taxing songs (“The Hours Creep on Apace” being just one example) and convincingly exuding her dilemma between Papa’s will and heart’s desire.
Leading man, Mark Uhre, also fired on all cylinders as Able Seaman Ralph Rackstraw, whether soaring to the melodic heights (“Refrain Audacious Tar”) or morphing with conviction from underling to leader.
None better than Marcus Nance to bring Bill Bobstay to fulsome life even as Brad Rudy infused a wonderful feeling of dastardly fun playing Dick Deadeye.
And let’s just say it: Kerry Gage’s choreography was superb.
Musically speaking, the only fly in this ointment was Brasz letting his charges (particularly the strings) weighing the soundscape down by failing to provide true staccati in their accompaniments. Although I may be keelhauled to go here again, he may not have realized the overall effect in the hall thanks to the built-in reverb of the dreaded sound reinforcement devices.
Those unfamiliar with this genre will most likely cheer their lungs out as the curtain falls on a happily-ever-after production. For the rest, we can only hope that a less-is-more approach will—one day—give the sultans of parody their rightful due. JWR