In Review: NY Gilbert & Sullivan Players bring H.M.S. Pinafore to Imperial

After years of trying to land the prestigious New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, the Imperial Theatre finally managed to attract the unforgettable performance of the H.M.S. Pinafore, and was the only Canadian stop on their tour. The comic opera showed Thursday, October 5th, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. to a very well-attended audience.

Gilbert and Sullivan, the Victorian-era theatrical duo (also beloved for The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado), first debuted H.M.S. Pinafore at the Opera Comique, London in 1878. It ran for 571 performances and set new standards for musical theatre. Albert Bergeret, the founder and artistic director of the theatre company, also directed and conducted this evening’s spectacle. Since founding the company 44 years ago, Bergeret has been hailed by the New York Times as “the leading custodian of the Gilbert and Sullivan classics.” It was a real honour to see the professional cast put on such a stunning show. The 17-piece orchestra, conducted by Albert himself, was perfection. In fact, it was all perfection—the choreography, the breathtaking vocals, the incredibly detailed set and costumes and even the lighting.

H.M.S. Pinafore is set aboard a ship named, you guessed it, Her Majesty’s Ship Pinafore. The captain’s daughter, Josephine, falls in love with the lower-class sailor Ralph Rackstraw. However, her father has already promised her to another: the First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Joseph Porter. In Bergeret’s words:

“Pinafore is a rather trenchant commentary on the injustice of class distinction, overblown nationalism, and petty personal ambition, yet [with a] frothy mix of buffoonery… the satire itself has outlived the object of its parodic thrust. Many of the musical elements that Sullivan drew upon are from obscure bel canto operas. Others, such as the similarity of Buttercup’s revelation to Verdi’s Il Trovatore, remain more familiar.”

The satire certainly has withstood the test of time. Though we can’t really relate to the struggles of living through the British class system, class divides haven’t gone anywhere. Thankfully, however, Gilbert and Sullivan have made the issue rather laughable.

(Courtesy of NY Gilbert & Sullivan Players)
(Courtesy of NY Gilbert & Sullivan Players)

The 23-person cast did an excellent job. James Mills played Sir Joseph Porter and was hilarious! David Auxier, who played Captain Corcoran, also gave an outstanding performance. The two shared a hilarious ad-libbed scene together in the second act, after their characters drank too much wine and found themselves in Saint John, discussing a few local oddities. It should be noted that apart from that, NYGSP made special care to give a true rendition of the 139-year-old comic opera.

Kate Bass and Cameron Smith played the starring couple and were an incredibly talented pair. Dick Deadeye, the ‘villain’ who was just too realistic, was played brilliantly by Louis Dall’Ava, and Angela Christine Smith performed the character of Little Buttercup wonderfully.

In an interview with CBC’s Hance Colburne on September 29th, Albert Bergeret had reported facing difficulties getting his crew and materials across the border, but the problem was evidently solved because the set was on point and not a detail was missed. Bergeret also spoke of some of the challenges of running a professional theatre company:

“I wouldn’t say there are great challenges other than keeping my company financially afloat in a not-for-profit world, and I have a very loyal company and people who love doing this sort of thing… Even though we’re professionals, we have an enthusiastic involvement that engages any audience and I wouldn’t consider that a difficulty.”

Far from a difficulty, New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, your professionalism is what makes you such a delight to see. Hopefully Saint John becomes a regular stop on your tours in the future.