REVIEW: Glow’s ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’ Set Sails with Winsome Mirth

Christian Elser leads the cast of “H.M.S. Pinafore.”
Photo by Wallace Krebs

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Glow Lyric Theatre gives a whole new urgency to the term “marrying beneath you” in a delightful and most amusing production of “H.M.S. Pinafore.”

With a bouncy and buoyant cast, one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most popular comic operas gets the full saucy treatment, which is no surprise given that Glow, now in its ninth season as South Carolina’s only professional opera company, began as an operetta performance troupe.

Also known as “The Lass That Loved a Sailor,” the story is set in Portsmouth, England where the navy vessel H.M.S. Pinafore has moored. The sailors are busy cleaning the deck when a local gypsy street vendor boards to sell her wares. Of course, the beautiful Buttercup (sung by the enchanting mezzo-soprano Emlynn Shoemaker at her most frivolous) is a welcome sight for these fawning fellas who have been out to sea for months. And her adorable “I’m Called Little Buttercup” only increases their admiration.

That is, except for the intelligent and ambitious Ralph Rackstraw (tenor Colin Markey) who sets his sights on the captain’s daughter Josephine (sung by Danielle Knox). And Josephine loves him too, in spite of Ralph’s lowly status as a tar, and far below her rung on the social class ladder, which is the primary theme of the opera with nearly two dozen jaunty songs and arias and several potential romantic pairings of different social castes that culminate in a rather clever twist at the end.

The dilemma is her father, the ship’s Captain Corcoran (sung by Glow regular Jeremiah Johnson), has already promised her hand in marriage to the highly-decorated head of the British Navy, Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty, sung gloriously with plenty of pomp and circumstance and charm by none other than dapper Glow co-founder Christian Elser in a rare stage appearance. Elser can usually be found in the orchestra pit as music director and conductor, but Hailey Anthum Hunter has the baton in this production.

And stage director Jenna Tamisiea makes the most of the silliness at hand with hilarious visual feasts of movement and comedic clarity, in a work that just oozes satire from the alluring title (a women’s boudoir garment) to the alliteration of the  characters’ names like Dick Deadeye (the one-eyed alcoholic deliciously sung by Ryan Allen), Bill Bobstay (baritone James Siarris with an infectious smile and disposition) and Bob Beckett (Jeremy Gussin).

And as the state’s only company devoted to social justice theatre, Glow doesn’t squander the operetta’s  flagrant criticism of government and controversial political figures. Whereas as Gilbert & Sullivan scoured the British Parliament , Elser has updated some of the lyric’s to reflect America in 2018, taking potshots at  Trump (I refuse to call him President), Mike Pence and even ousted EPA head Scott Pruitt.

“H.M.S. Pinafore” features a rowdy chorus of tars in festive sailor attire by Costume Designer Elizabeth Gray (Andrew Coleman, Steve Compton, Alberto Blanco, Angel Gavillan, Ediberto Ortega and Barry Combs) and a gaggle of female cousins of Sir Porter including mezzo-soprano Susan Clark singing the role of Cousin Hebe, Rebecca Payne, Lily Guerrero, Katerina McCrimmon, Valeria Ceballos, Waverly Speranza, Connie Dupre, Maddie Johnston and De’Ja Crumpton,

Ms. Hunter conducts the small orchestra and plays piano, with Grace Hurd and Julien Pitrois on violins, Abigail Byrd on cello, Chris Earle on percussion and Abe Marsh on bass.

“H.M.S Pinafore” continues through August 4 in repertory with “In the Heights” and Beethoven’s only opera “Fidelio” at The Warehouse Theatre, 37 Augusta Road in Greenville. For tickets, visit http://www.glowlyric.com.

 

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