Iroquois Amphitheater presents
Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore

Review by Rachel White
Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Rachel White. All rights reserved.

Robert McFarland & John Youngblood in H.M.S. Pinafore.
Photo courtesy of Iroqupis Amphitheatdf.

The program of H.M.S. Pinafore warns and apologizes in advance for the “earworms”; apology accepted. I have been singing “Now I’m the ruler of the Queen’s navy” in the Queen’s English for twenty-four hours straight. Once it’s in your head, it won’t leave. The songs are so catchy and fun that you replay them in your head for your own amusement. 
H.M.S. Pinafore is an old-style musical, one of the earliest by Gilbert & Sullivan; and you get the sense when watching the show that a transition is happening from opera to modern musical theater. It feels as though the writers are finding their way in a new kind of art form. Within the first few minutes I felt a little transported, as though stepping back to the 1870s to watch a play. There were the rich costumes, heavily made-up nobleman, well-trained operatic voices, and the presentational style that made the piece feel like something for another century. The stage was the deck of a ship, and it felt as though the audience was an extension of that ship. During one scene, crickets suddenly started calling and I felt like I was out on the ocean.
The story, of course, takes place on the British naval vessel the H.M.S. Pinafore (Her Majesty’s Ship) and tells of the love story between the nobly-born Josephine (Abigail Baily Maupin) and the low-born able seaman Ralf (Tony Pursley). Of course, they are star crossed. There is much singing and hijinks to keep the lovers apart and bring them back together. It is a thin plot, with not a great deal of action; and it feels as though the dialogue is there only to move the singing along, like the writers haven’t quite figured out how to use it. The performances, however, are wonderful and truly sell the show. 

Abigail Bailey-Maupin & Tony Purcell in H.M.S. Pinafore.
Photo courtesy of Iroquois Amphitheater.
Abigail Baily Maupin as Josephine is charming with her cheerful soprano. She had strong chemistry with John Youngblood, who also gave a solid performance as her father, Captain Corcoran. Other notables included Dick Dead Eye (Gregory Maupin), who is great physically with his hunchback, and dry humor. There is one moment where Ralf loses his chance with the beautiful Josephine, and Dick gallantly gestures to the plank from which Ralf is to jump as though it were the best solution. This kind of quirkiness and physical commitment keeps the play moving. Robert McFarland as the excessively anal and arrogant Sir Joseph was the perfect parody of the stuffy stereotypical English gentlemen.
This isn’t necessarily the kind of work I personally find touching. I like plays that are a little less tongue-in-cheek and a little more emotional. But a vibrant set, nautical romance, Victorian wit, trickery, shocking revelations, powerful operatic voices and coolness in the air that suggests the end of summer could win anyone over. The producers even provided online access to the libretto (in the old days the libretto would have been available to buy) so that the audience members could follow along on their smart phones. What a good, sweet ending to the summer.

Iroquois Amphitheater presents
Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore

Friday, August 17; Saturday, August 18; Sunday, August 19; Thursday, August 24; Friday, August 25; Saturday, August 26
All shows at 8 p.m.
Iroquois Amphitheater
1080 Amphitheater Road
Louisville, KY 40214
General Admission $15 – Students and Seniors $10