Perky “HMS Pinafore” Sails into Northampton With Huge Crew of Singers, Musicians [Berkshire on Stage]
Review and Discussion by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray
Larry Murray: This is one of my favorite G&S shows, how about you…
Gail M. Burns: One of them, yes. I have a special fondness for H.M.S. Pinafore because it was the first G&S operetta that I directed, but looking at it with an impartial eye, it is just Baby Gilbert & Sullivan. Although it was their fourth collaboration, it was their first mega-hit, and in it you see the solidification of the components that they would later hone to perfection in their mature classics – The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, and The Mikado.
Larry: What could be more British than the nautical themes of Pinafore and Penzance, so I am always willing to sail the ocean blue with W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s first big hit. It’s a big production and there’s room for everyone at the grand Academy of Music in Northampton. The stage is larger than the school halls they have used in the past, and it has the ability to drop set pieces in from the flies, and fit 50 people on stage at the same time if needed.
Gail: I love to see how many people are involved in Valley Light Opera productions year after year – as you said, about 50 on stage, 25 in the orchestra, and countless others behind the scenes. And I love to see Gilbert & Sullivan performed in houses like the 1891 Northampton Academy of Music (Gilbert & Sullivan’s final collaboration opened in 1896) which has probably seen the H.M.S. Pinafore dock in her port a few dozen times over the years.
All that being said, director Graham Christian has made this a MUCH bigger production than it needs to be. Pinafore is a one-set show, but Christian has taken the action ashore and added two unecessary ballroom scenes. I remarked on our way to the show that I hoped this wouldn’t be one of those stuffy preserved-in-mothballs productions, but in hindsight I wish that Christian had reined in his inventiveness considerably.