Smooth Sailing for HRG&SP’s ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’

Describing the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ staging of “H.M.S. Pinafore, Or The Lass That Loved a Sailor” as a shipshape production not only feels natural (nautical?) but also reflects the production’s seemingly effortless success. The show, which ran March 25-April 3 in the Agassiz Theater, featured spot-on direction executed by a superb cast, impressively tight orchestration, thoughtful and professionally performed choreography, and a beautiful set and costumes to boot. From the moment music director Jacob Moscona ’16 lifted his baton to key in the plucky violins and reverberating percussion that punctuates the operetta’s buoyant overture, the Agassiz stage transformed into the deck of an interwar British battleship (albeit one that never leaves port) on which the actors sang, danced, and dazzled. Smooth sailing, indeed.

In traditional G&S fashion, “H.M.S. Pinafore” combines not-so-subtle sociopolitical satire with upbeat music and colorful characters. Doe-eyed sailor Ralph Rackstraw (Alex J. Raun ’17) courts Captain Corcoran’s daughter, Josephine (Olivia R. Miller ’16), whom he laments as “a lass above his station.” Miller’s voice, for example, soared during a breathtaking rendition of “Sorry her lot who loves too well,” capturing Josephine’s same realization that the British focus on wealth and status confines her love for Rackstraw. To that end, Moscona, director Olivia M. Munk ’16, and HRG&SP historian Barra A. Peak ’18 in their playbill notes emphasized the strict order and limited social mobility of late nineteenth-century England, where someone like Captain Corcoran (Ben M. Kelly ’17) would dream of setting up Josephine with the high-ranking Sir Joseph (Kevin Q. Hilgartner ’16) and shudder to think of her illicit liaisons with a common tar.

Munk successfully coached the actors to tease out these social burdens with both wit and flair on stage. Kelly mastered the twinkling eyes, smooth swagger, and everyman smile of Captain Corcoran, embodying the cartoonish persona of an eight-year-old child who has always dreamed of running a ship. Hilgartner, for his part, pulled off the curmudgeonly, bug-eyed Sir Joseph with an understated ease that commanded chuckles. (“I thought so little, they rewarded me, / And now I am the ruler of the Queen’s navy,” he sang, simultaneously proud of his social promotion yet still blissfully befuddled as to how he achieved it.) And Brad A. Latilla-Campbell ’16, as the unpleasant sailor Dick Deadeye, combined sardonic humor à la Russell Brand and utter silliness with such conviction that his hamming it up on stage practically took the production from operetta to improv comedy club. The cookie-cutter British tars and Sir Joseph’s gaggle of sisters, cousins, and aunts—torn straight from the pages of a vintage 1920s resort catalog—rounded out the cast and added to the show’s effortless musicality, most notably in the number “A Many Years Ago.”

Professional-quality choreography and subtle lighting choices attentively enhanced the production’s already-beautifully rendered musical numbers. Swabbing the deck-slash-stage, Rackstraw and the British tars twirled mops with mesmerizing synchronization throughout Act I, and Captain Corcoran, Josephine, and Sir Joseph maintained the show’s energy by jigging it up in the happy “Never Mind the Why and Wherefore” in Act II. When the cast rang in the show’s denouement by singing,“Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen,” they clearly had known the ropes all along.

—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.



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