Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 2003
I just loved this show! Of course, I know every line, lyric, and note of Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1878 operetta H.M.S. Pinafore – of which this 1945 George S. Kaufman opus is a clever parody – so I cannot imagine what entertainment value the show would have to someone unfamiliar with the original. But just in terms of color, verve and overall joviality, I cannot conceive of anyone having a bad time at this delightful show.
The premise here is that we are in the studios of Pinafore pictures in the 1940’s hey-day of Hollywood when the big studios ruled the roost. Kaufman, who was certainly W.S. Gilbert’s heir apparent in the realm of social satire, knew both Hollywood and Gilbert & Sullivan intimately, and accurately perceived the parallels between the Victorian British class system which Gilbert was lampooning and the loopy world of the Silver Screen.
All of the music is Sir Arthur Sullivan’s although rhythms are occasionally tampered with to delightful effect, as in a rumba version of Things Are Seldom What They Seem. But while Kaufman has transferred the setting to 20th century America, he has retained a surprising amount of Gilbert’s original libretto and lyrics. Most of the time this works. It is funny to hear Hollywood types spouting the pseudo-speak of high Victorian melodrama, but there are times when you wish Kaufman could have let go of the original and let his own fertile imagination soar. When he does, as in the recreation of the famous Act II Bell Trio, as an Act I turn on the general insanity of the entertainment industry, the results are even more entertaining than when he sticks close to Gilbert’s original.
Theater Barn Artistic Director Bert Bernardi serves as director of this production, and he has lovingly resurrected this obscure entry in the American musical theatre canon with the assistance of musical arranger Loren Platzman. I wish the general public had the benefit of the thorough, scholarly, and entertaining information Bernardi provides in the press packets. This man really knows and loves each and every show he selects for production at the Barn.
Here, he has assembled a talented and attractive cast, and helped them strike the perfect chord of theatrical merriment to sell this show. My only tiny little quibble is that Joseph Mayon, a classically trained singer, is pushing slightly out of his range on Ralph’s higher notes, but considering that I found Mayon down-right annoying two weeks ago in Route 66 I was delighted to discover that operetta is this guy’s bailiwick and that he was just smashing as Ralph (pronounced Rafe) Rackstraw, the lowly Hollywood hack writer who loves and loves a lass above his salary.
Kerry Conte brings her lovely soprano back to the Theater Barn in the role of Josephine Corcoran, who has changed her name to Brenda Blossom now that she is an Oscar-winning movie star.
Drew Davidson and Jarret Mallon ooze unctuous Hollywood smarm as Joseph W. Porter, Head of Pinafore Pictures, and Dick Live-Eye, an agent. Both men are lithe and loopy and sing nicely in open, natural voices which contrast well with Mayon and Kerry Conte’s operatically trained sound. I loved Mallon moving his eye-patch from one side to the other during the course of the play.
Katherine Pecevich was my very favorite thing on the stage as absent-minded gossip columnist Louhedda Hopsons (a clever melding of the monikers of those 1940’s gossip mavens Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper) aka “Little Butter-up.” Looking lovely in dove gray and pale yellow, Pecevich really lit up the stage.
And I wish Kaufman had given Pinafore Picture’s resident child star Miss Peggy (Samantha Conte) more to do! She looked right at home with the older, more experienced actors, and did a neat little tap number during her brief singing solo. I see from her bio that 10-year-old Samantha has already been performing for many years, and I would encourage her to keep studying and taking every opportunity that comes her way.
At least once a season, the Theater Barn team pools their considerable talents and comes up with a real gem of a production. Here Abe Phelps has designed a striking art-deco set, all in shades of ivory, beige, taupe and gold, which Allen Phelps has lit to perfection. Costume designer Jimmy Johansmeyer is at his very best with really theatrical costumes, and who dresses flashier than 1940’s Hollywood types? Johansmeyer has confined his palette pretty much to the neutrals of the set, except for Porter and his entourage, who pop off the stage in brilliant red and black ensembles.
I could go on and on. There is so much that is wonderful about this production, and it really is a family show. Pack up grandma and the kids and go spend a nice air-conditioned afternoon or evening being entertained.
Hollywood Pinafore runs through August 17 at The Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. Hollywood Pinafore runs two hours with one intermission and is suitable for the whole family. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003