Gilbert & Sullivan's popular 'HMS Pinafore' setting sail at U-M
“HMS Pinafore,” one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most seaworthy comic operas, will set sail Thursday-Sunday at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre as the University of Michigan Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s spring show.
“Pinafore,” which pokes fun at the English class system of the late 1800s, involves a forbidden love affair between lowly sailor Ralph Rackstraw and the captain’s daughter, Josephine, who has been promised in marriage to Admiral Sir Joseph Porter. The two youngsters plan to elope, but the captain catches wind of the plan and throws Rackstraw in the brig. At the last minute, a peddler named Little Buttercup reveals a secret that saves the day.
It was the fourth collaboration between William S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan and their first big hit. It is considered groundbreaking in that it proved that such a light a form as musical theater could examine social / political issues while still being entertaining.
“The music, especially in this one, is just so catchy,” said Greg Hassold, who is co-directing with David Andrews, in explaining the show’s enduring popularity.
“This is the first one where Gilbert and Sullivan really clicked together—the tunes and the words work together so well. People can appreciate this for so many different reasons—the music, the wit, the satire, the drama, the dance opportunities and certainly the UMGASS crew that we’ve got, the beautiful work people do on the sets and the costumes.”Fans can expect a fairly traditional staging, added Hassold. Taking inspiration from the Golden Age of Sail and the movie “Master and Commander,” this “Pinafore” set has been modeled on Lord Nelson’s famous HMS Victory. The production is filled with traditional British dance, including numerous hornpipes.
“The hornpipe dances fit very, very naturally in the music (since) there’s so many hornpipes working in the score,” Hassold said.
Although UMGASS productions typically attract a cast of company veterans and newcomers, this version is also a family affair. Hassold’s wife, Noralynn, is in the chorus, as is Molly Day, music director Dave Day’s spouse. Father-son team Rich and Jon Roselle are also in the chorus.
“I was a freshman at the U-M in 1969 majoring in engineering with a strong interest in theater,” recalled Rich Roselle. “I decided to do a show and was cast in the Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s production of ‘HMS Pinafore.’ I did the next three shows and many of the friends I made are still close friends to this day. My son, Jon, developed the same love of theater as he grew and also joined the Gilbert and Sullivan Society when he attended U-M as a business major and has continued to do shows with them after getting his degree. “When G&S decided to do ‘Pinafore’ this year, I decided it was time to do it again 42 years later,” he added.
Hassold’s whole family has also been involved at one time or another.
“My kids have both been on stage—Jacob has worked the light boards, Laura has helped with costumes—it is a town and gown organization. Because of the involvement of the community it does have a strong family spirit to it. And I think the students like that too—it is a bit of a home away from home for them,” Hassold said.
Key cast members include Don Regan (Sir Joseph Porter), Paul Brumfield (Captain Corcoran), Tom Cilluffo (Ralph Rackstraw), Jeremy Williams (Dick Deadeye), Katrina van Maanen (Josephine) and Lori Gould (Buttercup).
“We want to present an appealing production for the old-timers and the new,” said Hassold. “I think the old-timers will appreciate a production that’s fairly faithful to the original. We’re definitely keeping G&S ideas strongly in mind. We’re just taking elements many other productions haven’t seen and teasing them out a little more.”