Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review: 'H.M.S. Pinafore'

Virginia Opera
Adam Turner conducting
Nov. 21, Richmond CenterStage

Virginia Opera’s current production of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “H.M.S. Pinafore,” in the first of two Richmond performances, proved rather slow in achieving lift-off.

That’s partly the fault of its creators, who devote much of the first act to introduction of lovelorn and otherwise
put-upon characters. “Pinafore” doesn’t really get going until the arrival of Sir Joseph Porter, the buffoonish First Lord of the Admiralty (“ruler of the Queen’s Navee”), accompanied by his sisters, his cousins and his aunts, who helpfully flesh out what had been an all-male chorus.

Jake Gardner makes a hearty meal of the role of Porter, relishing the character’s pomposity and cluelessness, and injecting the first real jabs of satire into a show that pokes merciless fun at Victorian Britain’s class consciousness, jingoism and the presumption that figures of authority never – well, hardly ever – get things wrong.

On the lovelorn front: Cullen Gandy, as Ralph (pronounced “Rafe”) Rackstraw, the young sailor smitten with the captain’s daughter, and Shannon Jennings, as the daughter, Josephine, who is just as smitten with Ralph but can’t bring herself to commit to someone so low-born, even though the alternative is marriage to the preposterous Porter, complement each other nicely, both in earnestness of character (garnished with a bit of slyness on Josephine’s part) and purity of vocal tone.

Christopher Burchett, as Captain Corcoran, and Margaret Gawrysiak, as the peddler woman Little Buttercup, carry on their clandestine mutual affection more indirectly, yet bumptiously. Burchett seems a bit too intent on playing the straight man; Gawrysiak is less shy about bringing out the comic aspects of Buttercup.

The show’s putative heavy, Dick Deadeye, gets earnestly grumpy treatment from Matthew Scollin. He should be having more fun with this role.

The men of the Virginia Opera Chorus acquit themselves credibly, if not especially lustily, as the “Pinafore” crew. The female choristers (sisters, cousins and aunts) bring a welcome liveliness to the show’s later choruses.

Stage director Nicola Bowie crafts an unfussy staging that has the right look and makes the right moves, but somehow seems too dutiful to rollick.

Adam Turner, the company’s resident conductor, keeps the show moving, although at a more moderate than ideal pace, and obtains fine playing from the pit orchestra.

Virginia Opera’s “H.M.S. Pinafore” repeats at 3 p.m. Nov. 23 at the Carpenter Theatre of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $20.33-$105.93. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX). The show concludes its run with performances at 8 p.m. Dec. 5 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax. Tickets: $44-$98. Details: (888) 945-2468 ( More information: