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Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul  

TRP's H.M.S. Pinafore raises ample smiles but not hilarity

Also see Ed's review of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Hazen Markoe, Colleen Somerville and Seth Laamanen
On a hot summer evening, Theatre in the Round's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore is as welcome as a lick of ice cream. It's pleasing to look at, and an attractive and mostly young cast sing, dance and play out Pinafore's improbable plot in a lively and amusing telling; but too often, librettist William Gilbert's delicious wit slips by, unheard, in unclear diction.

Pinafore has mirth and silliness to spare, as it pokes good-natured fun at Victorian England's pomposity and its rigid class system. The plot revolves around unsuitable love between members from different classes. Pretty Josephine, daughter of middle-class Captain Corcoran, loves and is loved by (heaven forefend!) a common sailor, Ralph Rackstraw. Meanwhile, Josephine is betrothed to an upper-class admiral, The Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter, KC.B., First Lord of the Admiralty and Commander of the Royal Navy, an excessively self-important, older man, whose firm beliefs can change quicker than a sea wind when he is adversely affected. A plot twist happily resolves this unthinkable dilemma.

A jolly scene opens on J. J. Johnson's set, with a main mast, plenty of ropes, a fo'c'sl, a hint of a sail and a Union Jack. An agile young sailor from the chorus shimmies up a rope, while others swab the decks and splice ropes as they kid around, sing and dance. On a platform above a vomitorium, musicians Kevin C. Steuven, Angela May, Denise Redman and Timothy Wells provide the oh-so-hummable tunes of Arthur Sullivan's musical score.

Sailor Ralph, played by Seth M. Laamanen, declares his amour for Josephine to his shipmates and sings in a clear tenor that can lift into a counter tenor. Laamanen projects a boyish persona as love-struck Ralph. Brandon Glosser's stiff Captain Corcoran also has a good tenor voice, but his attempt at an English accent and the speed of his delivery so masks his diction that I could hear few of his words, and that's a pity in a Gilbert and Sullivan work. Glosser catches the laugh in his aside about Little Buttercup — "A plump and pleasing person." But when he's singing that he's never sunk a ship, he misses the comic timing to make his after-thought, "Hardly ever," work; the line requires a pause, and then the wry admission. Buttercup is indeed plump, pleasing and animated in Angela Walberg's clear playing.

Soprano Colleen Somerville as Josephine looks the part, acts and moves well and has a good voice, but her delivery is too hurried and her words get lost in the haste. When Hazen B. Markoe peacocks on stage in the role of The Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph etc. etc., the whole piece ignites. Markoe relishes his role, plays his character's foibles to the full and sings his witty lines in a clear and booming baritone.

Sir Joseph is accompanied by a chorus of sisters, cousins and aunts, who turn the sparse deck into a garden of color in Mandi Johnson's period costume design. Adam King plays and sings lumpen Dick Deadeye, the sailor villain whose ugliness aroused more pity in me than the delight of loving to hate.

Greg A. Joelson choreographed Pinafore, referencing the British hornpipe as a base for the sailors' dances and nicely underpinning Gilbert and Sullivan's humor with bobbing movements for the patter songs.

TRP's Pinafore is fresh and likeable; now, every player must commit to clear diction so that Gilbert's hilarious libretto is audible. Only then can this production plumb the witty fathoms of its two master creators.

H.M.S. Pinafore July 14 —August 13, 2006. Fridays and Saturdays 8:00 Sunday matinees August 6 and 13, 2:00 p.m. Sunday evenings, 23 and 30, 7:00 p.m. Theatre in the Round Players, 245, Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis. Tickets: $22. Call 612-333-3010.

- Elizabeth Weir

Photo: copyright Act One, Too, Ltd

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