H.M.S. PINAFORE, Light Opera Works, at Northwestern University, Cahn Auditorium. Though 120 years old, this merry operetta is as seaworthy as ever, an irresistible blend of Sullivan’s matchless melodies and Gilbert’s shrewd satire of the Victorian caste system. The moment it’s learned that Captain Corcoran was switched at birth with a blue blood, his service to England is irrelevant: the former tar is now on top.
Returning to its inaugural production of 1981, Light Opera Works delivers the goods with panache. In Gary Eckhart’s set the pennants on the quarterdeck fly, and Claudia Boddy’s costumes are both prim and playful. Peter Amster’s staging sails by on the strength of much splendid singing, well shaped by music director Dennis Northway, notably by Timothy Bradley as the very able seaman Ralph Rackstraw and Jenni Tenenbaum as a lyrical Josephine. Ronald Watkins unbends a bit too easily as the spit-and-polish captain, and as Dick Deadeye, the archetype of the evil cripple, Peter E. Pohlhammer is suitably menacing, the mention of his name greeted (ad nauseam) by screaming seagulls.
The show’s flaw is all too common in LOW productions: an unwillingness to trust the material. David Nisbet’s pompous imposter Sir Joseph Porter, for example, is trivialized by tedious sight gags: a cue card to prompt his memory, a fall overboard, drunken lechery. Wrong. Gilbert’s comedy comes from the character, not the gimmicks. –Lawrence Bommer