REVIEW: H.M.S. Pinafore

Tap-dancing sailors, petticoat-clad women, and forbidden love, all on the deck of a ship.

Ah, summer: a time for unabashed romances, a laissez-faire outlook, and light-hearted theater. To best enjoy these fruits of the season, get yourself a ticket to the Guthrie Theater’s latest production, H.M.S. Pinafore. Gilbert and Sullivan’s fourth operetta, first produced in 1878 and their first international hit, follows two young lovers—Ralph Rackstraw (Aleks Knezevich), a lowly sailor, and Josephine (Heather Lindell), the captain’s daughter—as they spit in the eye of society and choose love over formalities, despite the fact that Josephine has been promised to Sir Joseph Porter (Peter Thomson), First Lord of Admirality.

Before thinking this a too-serious-for-summer love story, here are a handful of the other characters on board: Dick Deadeye (Jason Simon), a washed-up curmudgeon of a sailor with one eye; Buttercup (Christina Baldwin), a voluptuous beggar/gypsy woman/street walker of sorts; Captain Corcoran (Robert O. Berdahl), the mustached, awkward push-over determined to marry his only daughter into the coveted world of wealth. But even those characters who weren’t necessarily written to be obviously quirky—namely the sailors and the-sisters-and-the-cousins-and-the-aunts of Sir Joseph Porter—are portrayed as lively, unique players thanks to the superb acting that’s expected of those gracing the Guthrie’s stage.

Director Joe Dowling plows through the two-and-a-half-hour production with an anything-goes attitude, giving his set designer (Frank Hallinan Flood), costume designer (Fabio Toblini), choreographer (David Bolger), and actors the nod to do, well, whatever they please. The result: more props than a mere human’s eyes can process; beautifully elaborate dresses, makeup, and hair-dos; awe-inspiring tap-dance numbers by the sailors; and the most entertaining comedic performance of the summer (if not the year) by Robert O. Berdahl, whose facial expressions and physical humor raise the show from being mildly entertaining to laugh-out-loud funny.

Not life changing, and certainly not thought provoking, H.M.S. Pinafore is precisely what summer should be: light, breezy, fun, and full of laughs. Add a little song and dance to that mix, and you’ll be good to go till September.

H.M.S. Pinafore
Playing through August 28