Robert O. Berdahl (Captain Corcoran) and the sailors from the cast of the Guthrie Theater's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, with additional material by Jeffrey Hatcher. Photo by Michal Daniel
The Guthrie Theater presents the comic musical H.M.S. Pinafore through August 28. The production was the first blockbuster hit by the dynamic duo of Gilbert and Sullivan.
For some critics the show is the perfect tonic for a dull summer - for others it's simply "gone overboard." Read these excerpts to get a better sense of the show.
Joe Dowling's staging of Gilbert and Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore" is a deluxe delight. From David Bolger's arresting choreography for a handsome crew of sailors and Andrew Cooke's disco arrangements for a live orchestra, to Fabio Toblini's sumptuous costumes and set designer Frank Hallinan Flood's tiptop ship deck, the creative team pulled out all the stops.
...Show updates include conductor Cooke's marriage of Gilbert & Sullivan with Abba-esque beats. Yet the karaoke-sounding parts of the score did not detract from the levity. Choreographer Bolger's gorgeous moves include a sexy tango by Berdahl and Baldwin (and Alfie Parker Jr. as her subconscious desire). There also is a terrific tap number plus an early dance by Baldwin and nine sailors in one line, each behind the other. Her cleavage-enhancing get-up, not to mention her agile coloratura, suggests that Buttercup is a feminine powerhouse.
...The show's elements, including falling confetti and a disco ball, help to make this "Pinafore" the comic tonic for our bummer of a summer.
Christina Baldwin (Buttercup) and Tinia Moulder in the Guthrie Theater's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore.
Photo by Michal Daniel
When it's clicking (which is a good chunk of the time), the Guthrie's H.M.S. Pinafore is a lot of fun--a wild romp through a delightfully silly situation with broadly drawn comic characters and a set of wonderful Gilbert and Sullivan songs. It doesn't always reach those heights, however, as the production is tied down by a, shall we say, poor choice to "update" the musical accompaniment and make some additions to the story (from local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher) that don't do much but lengthen the evening without adding anything to it.
...At times, the Joe Dowling-directed production threatens to descend from satire and goofy titillation into baser, Benny Hill territory, and the two sides don't sit together very well. I get that some of the characters are pompous asses; I don't need their rumps shoved in my face to sell the point.
Jason Simon (Dick Deadeye) and Christina Baldwin (Buttercup) in the Guthrie Theater's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore.
Photo by Michal Daniel
From Renee Valois at the Pioneer Press:
Director Joe Dowling seems more intent on creating a huge spectacle than telling the silly story - and he's thrown everything he can at it.
The huge cast provides an endless kaleidoscope of noise and movement that begins with the chorus of sailors doing acrobatic flips and cartwheels and dancing across what appears to be the front deck of a coal-burning steamship.
...There's no way to miss the overblown climax, with lots of huge waving flags, a parade of oversized nautical props and oversized nautical props and confetti shooting wildly into the air. It feels a bit like a Fourth of July celebration - or that moment in Times Square when the ball drops. In fact, the production sometimes so overwhelms the show that it's a wonder it doesn't sink the ship.
The cast of the Guthrie Theater's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. PINAFORE, with additional material by Jeffrey Hatcher. Directed by Joe Dowling, choreography and musical staging by David Bolger, set design by Frank Hallinan Flood, costume design by Fabio Toblini, lighting design by Malcolm Rippeth.
Photo by Michal Daniel
The acting is terrific, of course (this is the Guthrie). Ditto the singing; the wonderful G&S music comes through with resounding intensity. As the lovers Heather Lindell and Aleks Knezevich sing gorgeously and their scenes together are very funny. Robert O. Berdahl amazes as the Captain - although his physical, out-there approach caused me to occasionally fear for his mental health. Peter Thomson excels as Admiral Porter, with his potbelly and his goofy skipping dance. I adored Christina Baldwin as not-so-aptly-named Buttercup; perhaps it's because her performance is relatively straightforward. It all works well. Indeed, high-energy/low-camp is emerging as a dominant Guthrie style: witness the recent 39 Steps and (to a lesser extent) Arms And The Man. These artists do it as well as it's ever been done.
Does this approach please your Intrepid Reviewer? It does not. He has an allergy to performers who want us to believe they're better than the play. He also suffers from great respect for traditional Gilbert and Sullivan.
But is the Guthrie's production of H.M.S. Pinafore well done? It is. In fact, it's beautifully done, as evidenced by the wildly enthusiastic reaction of the opening night audience. They applauded after every song and leapt to their feet for a standing ovation.
Have you seen the Guthrie Theater's production of H.M.S. Pinafore? If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.
Ed Huyck has it exactly right. The Guthrie's "Pirates of Penzance" was a total delight, and Hatcher & Cook's updating was unobtrusive. Sadly, this is not the case with "Pinafore."
Did I enjoy it? In many parts, yes. But when it came to the music, a mind-bogglingly talented cast had to fight their way through terribly distracting arrangements that turned G&S into That Awesome 80s Musical --- all power ballads and Broadway rock. Spare me.
The ending also did nothing besides keep us in the theatre for an extra 15 minutes. Again, I have to say that I was entertained by "Pinafore," but I wish that Dowling had had faith in the original material. Why do G&S if you don't really think audiences are going to like it?
In all, it was an enjoyable evening. I do agree with the previous postings that some elements you expect of G&S were missing, blocking at times seemed clunky and didn't flow with the music or the intent of the script. Some choices for intent of script were to my mind off base and the switches between "I love you" and "I hate you" were abrupt and seemingly came from the middle of nowhere. I enjoyed the set and lighting, being a backstage junky, and loved noticing the technical elements and seeing they were "spot" on. As the first time I've taken my 13yr old boy to a musical he will remember, it was a success. He laughed at the right places, missed some of the bawdier humor (fine with me) and giggled and laughed his way through the evening. Worth the money I spent.
I liked the show, but not the arrangements. I think that there must be some happy medium between the original, "popeye" style of the music in the original, and this '70's style homage to "YMCA." Some choices were made that seemed to revel in the very fact that it was updated, never mind what it sounds like.
It was like watching "Como sings Nirvana" rather than "Nirvana Sings Como," which would have been interesting.
Agreed with above posts. Musical arrangements were a mess. I'm not a purist in the least. Go ahead and re-think G+S. But do it with some thought and taste and overall purpose. The adapted score for this production felt thrown together and all too random.
There didn't even seem to be a basic understanding of how some of the original material worked. Does this arranger have any sense of stagecraft? Meters were changed, measures were lengthened, and what was meant to be brisk and humorous in the original score suddenly became attenuated and dull.
I couldn't watch it past the opening chorus. Why anyone would ever think that changing the music to that god awful shit would be a good idea is a complete mystery. It is a shame that so much hard work and talent was completely spoiled for me by this one incredibly strange choice. It left me angry and disappointed.
Why oh Why. Did they have to mess with Gilbert and Sullivan. The musical arrangements are awful. The set is wonderful, the costumes great, albeit a little tight!! the choreography super. But the music, enough said!
I often defend controversial, "revisionist" productions of operas, but this is far, far beyond revision; it's an abortion.
To be fair, I will say that the acting is mostly quite good. In between songs (and during the few which have been left relatively in tact), I could almost believe I was seeing a Gilbert and Sullivan.
I really can't believe I'm seeing this--THIS!--on the same network that brings me "Great Performances" and Charlie Rose. Is this really what they think I want to see? What an insult!
Really and truly unspeakable. The mugging. The prancing. The trilling, catch-laden modern-Broadway style singing. And finally, the orchestration: Sullivan's orchestrations are magnificent. They do not date. They do not disappoint. They are clever and sophisticated. Camping up the orchestration with disco and 80s bass and synth sounds has no justification as satire, as an enhancement of the score, as a derivation of the story, or even as a demonstration that the arranger has some level of musical or cultural awareness that is beyond ours. It's just dumb. There's no intellect on display here at all. It's the bottom of the barrel.
Okay, some of the new stuff was tedious, but the royal cameo was brilliant, as was the borrowing from Iolanthe. I could also argue that the disco-ball rock-opera adaptations were clever send-ups of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s bombastic body of work...he (and his era) suffer greatly by comparison.
Yuck, yuck, yuck. Hated the music, Couldn't get past the first act. It totally left me cold. I was so disappointed. I thought I was going to see a first class production of HMS Pinafore and I got this shit. Reminds me of that horrible production a dozen years or so ago with Linda Ronstadt singing Mabel in Pirates of Penzance,. Horrible! Thank goodness I can get this bad taste out of my mouth with the Met Opera Broadcast tomorrow and a local production of Yeoman of the Guard the next day.
The updated arrangement sent me scurrying to the Net to see if others thought the music was as terrible as I. Talent in performance, yes. Talent in staging, lighting, etc, yes. All ruined by music that undercut Gilbert and Sullivan's original score and tried in fact to place its stamp over it. Distracting to say the least. Wasn't the original material good enough?
As I told my sister after we watched this on PBS after
finally it was mercifully over(don't think we could take
much more)! I couldn't help quoting Luke Skywalker
when he first laid eyes on Han's Millenium Falcon....
"What a piece of junk!"
Putting Queen Victoria in it without mentioning her being aboard. They added music that wasn't in pinafore, but was in Iolanthe! They were forever slowing the pace of the numbers and dialogue and added too much of their own dialogue. Most of the time the music sounded nothing like Sullivan's wonderful score. It was simply a very overblown/overp;roduced mess, and that is being kind!
My mother, who was in a Pinafore production some 7 decades ago, found some of the music in the first few scenes unrecognizable; that may have been the orchestration or the Iolanthe borrowings. I'll have to go look at the Iolanthe selections in my piano collection to see.
Me, I rather liked the Abba-esque orchestrations, perhaps more despite than because, especially more when they let the original melodies thru. The energy they provided was admirable, tho not truly any higher than the originals. But I would have hated to loose the tango and tap-dancing. They worked!
And I actually though the broad, broad hints that led up to the dancing-queen finale were in the original--they were just the sort of parodies of melodrama that G&S liked!
What the fudge? Now I've seen everything! A gay disco take on Gilbert & Sullivan? (No, I'm not at all homophobic, and I love disco - in the disco and in some old movies.) Apart from the lovely sets and costumes, almost everything else was an abomination. I can't really blame the performers, because the director is probably the one who is most responsible for all these atrocities, but, for example, I thought Berdahl's Captain Corcoran was in danger of either bursting into flame or taking flight. The "revised" orchestrations were totally unnecessary (unless they needed to justify the probably inflated salaries involved) and the jarring changes in meter and rhythm from Sullivan's originals added nothing and took away almost everything, especially in the choral pieces; ditto with the new dialogue and other dramatic material. Writing Queen Victoria into the story was probably done in order to add a role for possibly one of the Guthrie's most well-known veterans, Barbara Bryne, but like all the other additional dialogue and lyrics, it was totally without Gilbert's wit and cleverness. The choreography was mostly just serviceable, but when the sailors started tap-dancing, I thought I might have inadvertently changed channels and was now watching a production of "Anything Goes"; and when limitations in dancing abilities have to be made to look like "accidental" missteps, you know you're in trouble. The reason Gilbert & Sullivan's operettas have endured this long is because they stand on their own, and do not require such ridiculous updating, especially when it's so strained, as it is in this case. We are not amused!
I saw that PBS was broadcasting "H.M.S. Pinafore" and counted down the hours waiting for it. I'm still waiting. The opening credits ("additional material by who???), and Busby Berkeley-style number with the total lack of Sullivan's overture clued me to the realization that this was a cute show but it was not 'Pinafore'. Martyn Greene must be rolling over in his grave. Shame on you Guthrie Theater - leave G&S alone... it is what it is and that is as wonderful as it was 100+ years ago.
My first reaction to this was "Oh horror!" but once I got used to the fact that they had gone all in on "H.M.S. Pinafore" it turned out to be more enjoyable than I expected it to be.
There's a story that George Grossmith once sought to add a bit of business to Gilbert's staging. When Gilbert nixed it, Grossmith said, "but I get an enormous laugh by it". Replied Gilbert: "So you would if you sat on a pork pie." There was a lot of sitting on pork pies in this production.
I did like the arrangement of "Sorry Her Lot." That actually worked.
Having grown up with the D'Oyly Carte recordings of the '50s and sung in many community theater productions, I do not think Gilbert and Sullivan needs to be altered in any way. Directors think they can get additional laughs by camping things up, missing the point that it is funnier when played absolutely straight. This happens a lot with Oscar Wilde as well.
In the end, all the changes underscored to me the brilliance of Gilbert's wit and Sullivan's ability to write tunes. For anyone really interested in who they were, I suggest "Topsy Turvy," probably the most best movie ever made about the workings of a creative partnership and the staging of a theatrical production.
What a profoundly trashy piece! PBS should be ashamed of this desecration of one of the best operettas ever written.LKuslan
What a disgrace to the art form of The Savoy this
dumbed-down adaptation of Pinafore is! What's wrong with the Guthrie Theater heirarchy that would allow such a travesty? Must be an interesting political scenario behind it all. The rewriting of Sullivan's orchestrations and melodies, and the additions of Queen Victoria, the dropping of the pants, the suggested humping of the "ladies" and the like were at best a juvenile attempt to update a masterpiece. It's like painting over a Rembrandt or a Monet. A total waste of the Guthrie reputation as well as that of PBS and the foundations that supported this tasteless effort. They should have known in advance what they were getting for their investment in the arts. Minneapolis and Minnesota should know better in the future.
A total distraction and a disgusting destruction of a classic. For shame!
I remember Joseph Papp's Pinafore, a brush-up done with immense affection for the original that gave it modern snap and fun totally in sync with the original style. The Guthrie version stunned us with its ham-handed disregard for what G&S wrote, ditching the orchestrations, changing vocal lines and disregarding the shape of numbers in turning Pinafore a schlock version of a bad Broadway musical.
Serious artists like Peter Brook will rework a piece of material and put it out honestly under a different name, or calling it something like Matthew Borne's Swan Lake. If the Guthrie thought Gilbert and Sullivan were so inept that their work had to be junked and replaced with inferior work, They could at least have been honest enough to stick their own name on it:
The Guthrie Theater Downmarket Trivialization of HMS Pinafore.
Well all the above comments are certainly my feelings also. The odd thing is that the libretto came to the front as if to make it simpler to follow. If that was the goal,well fine but is this once again a dumbing down of material for "modern" audiences? The homosexual overtones were certainly over the top and no doubt were brought in to ad camp to the whole disco thing. Well I hate to remind every one the disco era had its fair share of very hetero free love shagging. The Guthrie has always been about experimentation and one has to expect "the creature" ala "frankenstien" now and again.
I was so fortunate to see a production of a great Miller play at the Guthrie 20 years ago on a business trip: the depth of the acting and direction in that production of a Miller play was simply exceptional and extraordinary. But THIS thing....some wacky free-wheeling Pinafore VERY loosely based on some of the great Sullivan melodies .. HUH?? where was the overture?!?!?!? Where was the sweetness and charm??? If PBS offers the same level of weirdly inappropriate trash in the rest of this series....very very sad....what a waste of viewer time and donations and tax money this Guthrie production and telecast was!!
So sad and terrrible. I was very much looking forward to this prorgram, too. I feel ashamed that "modern" culture has come to this. And people clapped and cheered too. Dreadful.
In 1878 there were so many "improved" versions of Pinafore floating about the US that Gilbert and Sulllivan thought it necessary to come to New York to open the Pirates of Penzance there with the intention of showing the public what they were missing.
I'm glad to see the Guthrie Theatre continuing the tradition of "improvement" but sad to say that there is no hope of G&S visiting this time. Sorry chaps. It won't work twice. Might as well just do it straight.
If you want to be original, then create something new - something of your own.
Perhaps a trite analogy, but would you curate a Rembrandt exhibition by spray-painting graffiti on the tableaux?
No, I don't want a Xerox copy from one production to the next. Just find the ability to personalize without mutilating.
We are very relieved to know that we are not the only ones who excitedly turned on the show -- and even more excitedly turned it off five minutes later. The best way to describe this production was that it made us gag (a la Joan Rivers). Unlike some, we didn't make it past Buttercup's phallic manipulation of the cannons. It would have been masochistic to force ourselves do otherwise. Pinafore has stood the test of time, with a memorable, singable (and hummable), well-written, score and very funny, satirical, multii-layered, libretto.. The tradition of manipulating a lyric here and there updates it without turning it into smutty version of "A Chorus Line". Truly clever humor does not need to be sophomoric. In addition, we find it truly hard to believe that "don't ask, don't tell" would have been suspended in the Queen's Navy. We are not homophobic, and enjoy gay humor, but it simply didn't make any sense in this context. Much of the blatant sexual inuendo in this production seemed purely gratuitous, as if the director believed that this was the only way to hold the attention of the audience. Modifying a production should only be done if it improves it -- not for the sake of change. (We can't bring ourselves to call this updating.) If it ain't broke, don't fix it! Kudos to PBS for broadcasting G&S - we can only assume that they were unaware that this production would be so, uh, interesting. Hopefully, this will not deter PBS from broadcasting more G&S - but some quality control is needed. Intelligent, sophisticated works deserve intelligent, sophisticated productions.
All I ask is why? The original version is a peerless gem. This version is beyond contempt. Why must PBS stoop to showcasing a "dumbed-down" travesty that panders to the tastes of the lowest common denominator? This was incredibly brash, puerile and unfunny. How about airing a good Gilbert and Sullivan production that doesn't insult the authors or our intelligence.
As a St. Paul resident and Guthrie season subscriber for some years prior to the new building opening, I can say I don't swoon for every performance. HMS Pinafore was a home run as designed. It's 2011 and the Guthrie stands for excellence and values but not necessarily for tradition and conformity. If the Guthrie was any other way I would not subscribe. Conversion of Victorian music hall satire to 21st Century musical theater is both brilliant in concept and execution by the Guthrie where this sort of activity is almost routine. Gilbert and Sullivan on steroids with a bit of Monty Python is what this production is about. The true star is the sailor chorus line with the spice of a saucy midshipman and a salty Deadeye. The sailors give a nice batch of action to add to the "a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants" feeling necessary for traditional music hall. Nothing is static on this stage. Movement is almost constant and one soon learns to expect the unexpected. Most of all the production is a lot of adult level fun,
My biggest issue with this production was the way PBS promoted it. Plain and simple - it wasn't Gilbert & Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore". Period. When the libretto is massively "improved" and the orchestrations completely rewritten it no longer can be called that. Had PBS promoted it as "Pinafore - The Musical" or "This Ain't Your Father's G&S - (based on Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore by Gilbert & Sullivan), we would likely have said....ah me...ah me....they don't get it.....let it go at that.....and sat back and watched some very energized performances. But alas ...alack...by promoting it as G&S's "HMS Pinafore" PBS misled the viewing public and did us, those who perform and direct the G&S canon, no favors. Many of us work hard to deliver productions that still appeal to the traditionalists, while at the same time engage the young and uninitiated with well designed dance moves, and/or new but not offensive staging. And we strive to encourage our actors to commit to their characters. One great theatre maxim to remember is.....you, the actor, are in a comedy....your character is NOT. If G&S characters are allowed to deliver their lines fully committed to their situations and relationships, the masterful humor of William S. Gilbert shines thru. Not to mention that Sir Arthur's music really can't be improved upon. Someone unfamiliar with G&S (and there are many out there) who chanced to watch the performance, did not see G&S. They saw a massive adaptation. It should have been promoted as such.
Others here have already said it best...
"Where was the sweetness and charm???"
I was so disappointed.
The current staff of PBS in this area has finally shown itself up for what it is. No words can describe it. PBS once did some wonderful things in this area. As to the current group all one can say is that they'll none of them be missed.
This was sheer crap! And Papp didn't do Pinafore. It was Pirates. And it was put together with affection and respect for the source material with some embellishments versus distortions.
I watched for about 15 minutes and couldn't take anymore! PBS should be ashamed they broadcast this travesty. Whoever defiled the music with those horrible arrangements should be ashamed! This was the worst production I have ever had the misfortune to watch! It is obvious that PBS is now pandering to the lowest common denominator!
AWFUL, AWFUL, AWFUL! The nerve of Joe Dowling & Andrew Cooke, thinking they had the either the right or the ability to "re-orchestrate" nearly all of Sullivan's music! The only thing this production proved is Cooke's encyclopedic knowledge of Corny Broadway-Musical Cliches of the past 40-50 years!
I recorded this production from a local PBS station at 0300, looking forward to watching it later in the day with my lovely wife and two Burmese kittens . Seemed like a lovely Sunday afternoon in the offing. I got through 5 minutes before murdering the damn thing and cleaning the DVR - twice. It would have been just 2 minutes, but Anne wanted to "give it a chance". The kittens didn't think much of it either; they're very young, but they do know that an operetta starts with an overture.
Where do these Guthrie Theater people get the nerve (balls, chutzpah) to destroy some of the most pleasant music ever written? Is this a Minneapolis thing? Was the artist formerly known as Prince involved in any way? Is the opening sequence wherein two sailors shovel pantomime coal into the boilers of a sailing vessel a clever joke, the purpose of which escaped me, or just another example of mucking about with something that needed no improvement - or modernization, for that matter.
One can only assume that the D'Oyly Carte folks no longer have any copyright interest in the works of G & S and that anybody in the world has the right to screw up any Gilbert & Sullivan work ever written with complete impunity. Here's a hint: Anne Russell did it decades ago, and a damn sight better.
I wouldn't mind terribly if some of the wickedly clever references (i.e., an admiralty lord who had never been to sea) had been updated for easier "getting", but throwing 20 extra chorus boys into every scene didn't seem to add a lot.
Maybe it got really good from minute 6 onward; sadly, I'll never know.
I don't think the actors can be blamed - actors usually have to do what they're told. Even the Guthrie itself has to try to stay in business, which depends to an extent on the quality of their leadership.
PBS is in a sense in a different kind of position. What these people decide about what constitutes the "Arts" can affect everyone. If they took the time to just go back and watch one of the earlier choices, such as "Crazy For You" and to compare it to what they just opened their season with - it might be clear even to them that the real issue is between what is human and what is sub-human.
This was NOT "Pinafore", it was misbegotten attempt by a talentless director to insert himself into a classiic work. The result is a botch job. If Sullivan's music and Gilbert's libretto were not good enough for the director he should have had the discretion and respect to leave them alone. What a waste of everyone's time. I cannot believe that PBS had the bad taste to even air this mess.
The Guthrie Theatre production of what they called "HMS Pinafore" was dreadful! We were looking forward to seeing it again, since our New Orleans Opera had done it last year, very successfully. My first clue that we were in for disappointment was the elimination of the overture, one of the best pieces of music in the whole show. What ensued was a dog's breakfast of poorly-conceived changes to a masterpiece.
The dancing was energetic, but the singing mostly was flat and unexciting. Some of the cast seemed bored by the whole affair, and the vocals lacked the sparkle that a good production delivers. Last year our New Orleans Opera presented an excellent classic perfomance with minimal sets and special effects and terrific vocals. The PBS/Guthrie production spent lavishly on sets, costumes, choreography, and special effects, but that couldn't save this turkey.
We watched for 15 or 20 minutes, hoping that it would get better, but finally we couldn't take any more, so I got out our recording of the D'Oyly Carte production to hear what G & S should sound like. Curiously, not once during the D'Oyly Carte perfomance did I find myself wishing that someone would "improve", "update", or "amend" the score.
What a shame and a waste of talent and resources the Guthrie Theatre has disgorged. It would be forgettable, except that it was memorable for being so inept and un-exciting (despite the prancing sailors).
I saw the Guthrie's production of "Pirates" and thought it was one of the best things they've done, and better than any video versions I could find. I wish it had been recorded for video release. I was not as thrilled by "Pinafore," but enjoyed it thoroughly. The familiar melodies and wicked dialog came through fine. And after viewing it recently on DVD, I found i was more comfortable with the new arrangements. It seems to me that many of the comments here come from real aficionados, and I have to wonder how long they will be able to find any live Gilbert & Sullivan anywhere if productions rely entirely on letting 1880's humor and musical conventions "shine through." We can still hear Bach and Mozart live, I realize, but those audiences seem to be shrinking, too.
Horrible. Just horrible. I was so excited to see G&S on public tv, but I had no idea what the Guthrie had done to the music. Like many others I couldn't make it past the first few minutes.