With a recently unearthed "lost song," the production of "H.M.S. Pinafore" from The Arlington Players is not only a solid piece of musical theater, it is a historic event, of interest to the world’s legions of Gilbert and Sullivan fanatics.
Over the years, The Arlington Players have put on three of the operettas featuring the unique combinations of Sir William Gilbert’s lyrical tomfoolery and the seriously stirring music of Arthur Sullivan, including the other two of their three biggest hits, "The Mikado" and "The Pirates of Penzance."
This production is, however, their first of the "Savoy Operas" in a decade, a satisfying program overall that does both musical and comic justice to the material. Director Malcolm Edwards does adopt a pacing for the show that is a bit slow, giving it a plodding feel at times.
But that may be an attempt to keep the pace within the musical skills of the company as a whole. If the choice was intentional, it worked, for the show is exceedingly well-sung and -played.
The large chorus of "sisters, cousins and aunts" and "sailors" not only sing well, they cavort marvelously in Lorri Shealy Unumb’s dances, while the six soloists all impress with their singing and their acting.
Bill Karukas is wonderfully funny as the insufferably stuffy Sir Joseph Porter, head of Her Majesty’s Navy, whose main qualification for the rank of First Lord of the Admiralty is never having gone to sea. David Henderson is superb as the rank-obsessed Capt. Corcoran, commander of the Pinafore, the fighting ship with the ridiculous name of a child’s bib.
Pinafore’s young lovers are Capt. Corcoran’s daughter Josephine and able seaman Ralph Rackstraw, well-sung here by Daria Antonucci and Jason Rylander. Antonucci sounds like she has had the most formal training of the cast. Rylander’s voice, meanwhile, has a unique intensity that makes his opening soliloquy memorable. Their duet "Refrain, Audacious Tar" is quite a match.
Renee Moyer makes an unusually attractive "Little Buttercup," a bit of casting that seems to belie Buttercup’s description as "a plump and pleasing person!" Matt Williams gives a fine comic turn as the dastardly Dick Deadeye, the sailor who would foil the lovers’ plans.
Music director/conductor Andrew Loftus not only coaxes fine harmony from the cast, he gets solid support from the 10-person orchestra. While it lacks strings larger ensembles employ for this sort of piece, the orchestra still sounds full and lush. Particularly impressive are Alan Michels’ bassoon and Jeff Kahan’s oboe work.
This production follows the original intent of Gilbert that the set and costumes be as accurate a recreation of a British man-of-war as possible, a demand that, the writer felt, would make the realism of the images and the beauty and sincerity of the music contrast that much more with the silliness of the plot and the lyrics.
Irene Molnar’s costumes, especially those for the sailors, were just right, and Michael deBlois came up with a strikingly realistic set. DeBlois created the deck of a ship complete with cannon and rigging, then set another gently rocking ship on the horizon. In evening scenes, there is even a signal lamp on that faraway ship. The Pinafore’s bow was a flight of whimsy for deBlois, with the masthead a sculpted lady whose head is truly turned by Ralph’s song of "a maiden fair to see."
<b>THIS "PINAFORE" DEPARTS</b> from other productions early in the first act, with the introduction of the "lost song," recently discovered by musicologists working to compile a new, definitive copy of the 1878 comic operetta.
Lyricist Gilbert wrote this song for the captain of the Pinafore to sing to his daughter, after she falls in love with a lowly sailor. "Reflect, My Child" was set to music by Sullivan and orchestrated for performance, but it was cut before the opening. While scholars have known the words for years, the music seemed lost forever.
Musicologists Bruce I. Miller and Helga J. Perry of Massachusetts’ Holy Cross College found parts of the original orchestration and came up with enough of the material to "fill in the blanks." They recreated enough of the song for the captain to warn his daughter of entanglements with a youth of questionable table manners (he eats his gravy with a knife, the captain says) and grammar (he mixes the forms of his verbs – but then, so does the captain).
All of the fans of the great team of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan should make an effort to catch this production if only to hear a lost Gilbert and Sullivan song. They will find that the entire production is worth the visit as well.