GILBERT AND SULLIVAN'S operetta H.M.S. Pinafore has been done countless times by many different kinds of companies. Although the passing of time has drained it of political and social satire, the gushing Victorian libretto and lively score still produces a good comic opera.
The play relied originally on its satire of a Disraeli appointee to the Admiralty as its main attraction. In its time it was effective, as even Disraeli began to refer to the unfortunate man as "Pinafore Smith," but the elements of the play which have caused it to be produced by countless companies, colleges, and high schools lie in the comedy which was originally intended as a vehicle, not an end in itself.
The current production by the Harvard Gilbert and Sullivan Players, although gimmick-ridden, is a fine one, with choreography that seems to belong in a far more lavish production, and excellent performances by the principals. The crew of the famous ship whirls and leaps in a comic dance, with several planned encores. The dancing is excellent, but at times choreographer Ruth Perrenod and director Lindsay Davis push a little too hard. While Ralph Rackstraw (Thomas Fuller) sings his love Madrigal a member of the chorus and a ballerina waft about the deck of the ship. The scene is syrupy enough without this heavy-handed instruction to the audience, "See, this is really just in fun." The ballerina, Lois Rosenberg returns as a sprightly youngest cousin to the Lord Admiral. She has a talent for mime, and is a pleasant distraction from the main action.
THOMAS FULLER as Rackstraw and Lise Landis as Josephine play their caricature parts with a sincerity that heightens the effect of the great cliche. Their dripping love scenes draw roars of laughter from the audience. Josephine's asides like, "His simple eloquence goes to my heart!" and "Oh, my heart, my beating heart!" and Rackstraw's statement of love, with the phrase "wafted one moment into blazing day, by mocking hope--plunged the next into Cimmerian darkness of tangible despair, I am but a living ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms." draw cheers from an unbelieving audience.
One particularly impressive element of the Agassiz Theater production is the quality of the singing. The cast handles difficult recitative with ease and grace, which adds remarkably to the play, for badly done recitative can sound terribly awkward. Supported by a large, but largely mediocre orchestra, the cast sings out with strength and clarity over what is occasionally a great noise. Fuller, Joshua Zimmerberg, and B. Craumer begin a bright acapello introduction to "A British Tar" soured by the entrance of some badly tuned violins. Fuller and Jeffrey Davis as the Lord Admiral are the most impressive voices, although Landis and Eden Murray are very successful.
Despite a good voice, Eden Murray's real ability lies less in singing than in acting. She plays Buttercup with a (stuffed) belly-slapping assurance which is realized by her confidence and maturity as an actress. Since Buttercup is the glue that joins together the outlandish plot of Pinafore any successful production must rely heavily on the actress playing the part. Eden Murray's Buttercup is a major portion of this Pinafore's success.
THE ROLE OF THE Lord Admiral Sir Joseph Porter K.C.B. is one of the best in the play, for it lends itself to exaggeration and overacting in a play that relies on those elements for its success. The Lord Admiral is meant to be played as an old man, clearly unfit for marriage with Josephine, and to accentuate the absurdity of a landlubber in such a post he is usually played as a distinctly contrasting character to the manly crew of the Pinafore. Jeffrey Davies limp-wrists his way to great applause, mincing about the stage in white tights and giggling with the mannerisms of the stereotyped homosexual. The tumultuous enthusiasm which his acting draws from the crowd break his sincerity. He abandons his role to laugh with the audience at the character he has created. Only this inconsistency keeps him from stealing the show.
The only failing in this excellent production of Pinafore is the gimmickry. During the Lord Admiral's attempt to woo Josephine, director Lindsay Davis inserts some unnecessary slapstick which detracts from the Gilbert humor. Dick Deadeye (Phillip Baas) does not wear the usual eyepatch but sports instead a "dead eye" which, from the balcony, looks like a wart. He is also equipped with a hook for a left hand.
The most entertaining and funniest parts of this production come with the original Gilbert and Sullivan, with lines like "Oh bliss! Oh Rapture!," and the Harvard Gilbert and Sullivan Players do a very good job with it. They should appreciate their own abilities and edit some superfluous additions.