Last night’s HMS Pinafore from Toronto Operetta Theatre was a reminder of what they do best.
For some works there is a kind of social contract at work, a simple plan that begins with the music and the words. If the music is done well, if the words are clear and if the laughs built into the text are done more or less as written, you can’t miss. It’s the essence of a classic that so long as you the producer give us some variant of the basic formula of the work, we the audience will be there, lapping it up.
Lap lap lap…(!)
And that’s precisely what I saw, a production accepting the Gilbert & Sullivan rulebook.
The music? Honoring the formula begins with an orchestra’s faithful treatment of the tunes we know and love. One stares with disbelief, that yes it may be a small group but their sound is enough to fill the space with magic. Conductor Derek Bate captained the vessel boldly through Sullivan’s dotted rhythms & accents, reflective or boisterous as the mood required. We’re home-free when we hear the beloved melodies brought to life.
There’s lots of choral singing in Pinafore, sometimes in groups of soloists but joined by the chorus. I mention them first because I think they, along with the orchestra, are where the strength of this production began, likely in careful rehearsals with Bate & his musical staff. I could understand every word, the music was all wonderfully in tune.
Yes this music might be well-known to some, indeed so well known that the tunes ring inside our heads for days after seeing a show (or a cartoon for that matter).
But in the end it still must be learned. If it is to have impact it must be performed with precision and commitment. I don’t see a credit in the program for choreography so I’ll assume the various dance-moves, from hornpipes to something decidedly anachronistic –and earning big laughs from the audience—must have originated with director Guillermo (Bill) Silva-Marin. Musically, dramatically, visually: they were well-prepared and a pleasure throughout.
But without a few remarkable soloists it would never float, let alone sail.
I recall how impressed I was with Ryan Downey last November, singing folk music & drinking screech: a perfect audition for Ralph. His sympathetic smile & a lilting delivery reminds me of Newfoundland & the sea, and yes he has a beautiful voice.
A little over two years ago I heard Holly Chaplin sing Cunegonde in Talk is Free Theatre’s Candide, a remarkable combination of beautiful singing & great acting. Her Josephine was another opportunity for us to see what she can do, and she showed us. Whenever she wanted to open up that voice she filled the hall seemingly without effort, while making us like her character every time she appeared.
Rosalind McArthur’s Buttercup was always clearly enunciated, stylishly sung and hilarious. Bradley Christensen’s Captain showed us some amusing dance moves, while Gregory Finney as Sir Joseph Porter was a strong & secure presence, anchoring the show.
Silva is to be congratulated on giving us the Gilbert & Sullivan we know & love. There’s a final performance of HMS Pinafore Sunday afternoon March 8th, but then TOT will be back May 2 & 3 with Michael Rose’s new musical A Northern Lights Dream.