Thanks to the Encore Series and the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, "H.M.S. Pinafore" managed to get far enough up Big Creek to reach FHSU's Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center. Tuesday evening's performance of G&S's first great hit was greeted warmly by a near-capacity audience. "Pinafore," still popular after 136 years, has not visited Hays in nearly 30 years.
A first-rate professional cast, nice staging and choreography, and a believable replica of the quarter deck of the Pinafore made the performance well worth the wait. Of course, the greatest credit goes to librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan.
The operative principle of all G&S operas is to gently mock the absurdities of life and society by turning everything upside-down and back again. Gilbert's satires, written in the witty style of 19th-century British comedy, combined with the music of Sullivan, all of whose catchy melodies sound like parodies whether intentional or not ("The Lost Chord"), provide a perfect blend of timeless, universal humor and tunefulness.
"Pinafore" tackles the all-too-human preoccupation with rank and class, specifically with regard to the British Navy. Josephine, daughter of Capt. Corcoran, "a really popular commander," loves Ralph Rackstraw, a sailor. He loves her, too. Naturally, this match is deemed to be doomed by all concerned because "a gallant captain's daughter" ranks so far above "a tar that plows the water."
Worse, Josephine is betrothed to the "Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B." a self-made man who refers to himself as "the monarch of the sea." He also is quite a womanizer -- never travels without his "sisters and his cousins and his aunts." Despite his humble origins, Sir Joseph now ranks higher than Josephine. However, as he ironically points out, "love can level ranks." This inspires Josephine to declare her love to Ralph, and the two try unsuccessfully to elope. Corcoran sends Ralph to the brig.
But the captain has his own problems. He is sweet on Buttercup, "a plump and pleasing person" who functions on board as a one-woman general store. He refuses to pursue the attraction because he doesn't want to cross class boundaries.
Buttercup concocts a tale that solves everybody's problem at once. She alleges that many years ago, she "practiced baby farming." One baby was "of low degree, the other a patrician." Ralph is the patrician, Captain C. the plebeian. Captain Ralph embraces Josephine; Seaman C. embraces Buttercup, and Sir Joseph makes do with one of his "cousins."
Many years ago, the brilliant singer-comedienne Anna Russell demonstrated G&S operas were formula affairs, always involving the same sorts of singers. Tuesday's cast was exemplary. Josephine (Kate Bass) emitted just the right piccolo-like sound; Buttercup (Angela Christine Smith) had an ultra-dark chest register; Ralph (Daniel Greenwood) was a perfect post-adolescent cutie; the captain (David Auxiere) had a pleasant baritone; and Sir Joseph (Stephen Quint), "the little man who sings the patter song," was perfect in every way.
The next event in the Encore Series is Step Afrika at 7:30 p.m. April 12 in Beach/Schmidt.
Ruth Firestone is a supporter of the arts and frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.