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Monday, Nov. 22, 2010

Skylight Opera’s Must-See ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’

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When I think through all the Skylight Opera productions I have seen there over the last 25 years, Gilbert & Sullivan are the high points. H.M.S. Pinafore, which opened last weekend, handsomely adds luster to the G&S tradition at Skylight.

Peter Dean Beck’s bi-level ship deck set is gorgeous, rich with wood and rope mastings. One could not ask for a better Pinafore set. Bill Theisen’s direction and choreography are full of invention and very funny, stopping short of the campiness that can tilt G&S’s social satires too far. Two numbers in the second act, a duet (“Things Are Seldom What They Seem”) and a trio (“Never Mind the Why and Wherefore”), are shining examples of an organic mix of comic direction and choreography.

John Muriello (Captain Corcoran) is the standout Skylight performer of the last decade. To any role he brings a beautiful, healthy and free voice, along with spontaneous silliness and a rubber face that could have made him a comedy star of silent movies. It would be hard to find anyone who can sing the aria “Fair Moon, to Thee I Sing” better than Muriello. Alicia Berneche again shows her attractive, lively spark as Josephine. Robb Smith, as the gentle villain Dick Deadeye, has the knack of acting a highly stylized character part with forthright honesty.

Deborah Fields’ Buttercup is a hoot. My only quibble is that her spoken lines were in a cockney accent, while her sung lines were in standard British English. Colm Fitzmaurice delivers a serviceable and charming Ralph Rackstraw, even if his highest notes are not free and bloomed. As Sir Joseph Porter, I found Gary Briggle self-conscious and self-contained, though he gets his laughs. The sailors and Porter’s “sisters, cousins and aunts” performed with spirit. Shima Orans' costumes were welcome splashes of well-designed color. Richard Carsey conducted the score with brisk and efficient style.

This Pinafore is a must-see for the holidays. I would go again just to see and hear Muriello and Fields galavanting through their Act II duet one more time.