Monday, Nov. 22, 2010

Shipboard at the Skylight

The Skylight Opera Theatre Returns to a Classic With G&S� H.M.S. Pinafore

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Big, professional productions of old Gilbert and Sullivan musicals can chisel themselves into the stage like stale museum pieces. A good G&S production is a delicate balance between sophisticated socio-political satire, song, dance and pure fun. Director Bill Theisen does a really good job of keeping juggling all of the elements of a good professional Gilbert and Sullivan production with the Skylight Opera Theatre’s staging of H.M.S. Pinafore.

A ship’s rigging can be seen in silhouette on the curtains prior to the show. The curtains pull back and there it is—the deck of the Pinafore. Scenic and lighting designer Peter Dean Beck has done a beautiful job here. He creates a sweeping sense of depth that uses every fraction of the stage space to bring-in the visual world of the Pinafore. A ship can be seen off in a distance beyond the deck that does not exist. It’s a very clever illusion.

A smartly dressed group of sailors are soon seen tap dancing on deck. Somewhere amidst the percussion of over half a dozen guys in vintage sailor outfits, the fun starts to set-in. An upper-class woman falls for a common man and vice-versa. Things get complicated as her father—the captain—convinces her that her love for him isn’t a good idea, so she must hide her love for him. She does her best to act disinterested in him. And so on.

The cast balances complexities of the plot while maintaining what feel like very authentic emotions in a blended rush of catchy, upbeat songs. The impeccably well-orchestrated action provides a structure for some really impressive performances. Saturday night’s performance included an interesting moment between the Captain of the Pinafore and Buttercup—a lowly supply merchant who is deeply in love with him. Towards the end of the pairs performance of “Sir You Are Sad,” the Captain (played with stern humanity by John Muriello) dons a feather bedecked nautical hat with a flourish. Saturday night, a feather escaped the cap as Muriello put on the cap, slowly hanging in the space between Muriello and Buttercup—played with passionate strength by Deborah Fields. The feather hung there in a silence hung between Fields and Muriello. Muriello gracefully reached-out, grasped the feather that had flown from the Captain’s cap, and kissed it. It was a beautiful sentimental unscripted moment.

The talent in the rest of the cast is substantial and far too lengthy to get into here. Gary Briggle’s appearance here is particularly memorable—playing the consummate politician Sir Joseph Porter. A man of great experience, Briggle looks very at home onstage in a Gilbert and Sullivan show. His appearance here, though not exactly in a huge role, is the crowning flourish on a really entertaining production.

The Skylight Opera’s production of H.M.S. Pinaforeruns through December 19th at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre.

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