Review: ‘HMS Pinafore’ presented by Lamplighters Music Theatre (*****)

by Charles Kruger

F. Lawrence Ewing (center) as Sir Joseph Porter, surrounded by chorus members Chase Kupperberg, Abby Green, and Nick Main. Photo Credit: Lamplighters
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

When Lamplighters’ “HMS Pinafore” sets sail this weekend in Livermore for its final voyages of the season, you don’t want to be left ashore. This rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s great masterpiece is as polished as the handle of a big brass door. Indeed, they’ve polished up this chestnut so carefully, that it ought to garner prizes from the BAT CC (Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)!

“HMS Pinafore” is the best of Gilbert & Sullivan: it has insightful social satire, outrageous nonsense, a libretto that rivals Oscar Wilde for wit, and tunes so memorable they practically whistle themselves.

While some may find Gilbert & Sullivan to be old fashioned and merely quaint, there seems little likelihood that their fandom will disappear. In some years, the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in Harrogate, England (where Lamplighters has more than once received awards) has sold upwards of 25,000 tickets and is considered one of the most popular opera festivals in the world.

Still, the fact is that Gilbert and Sullivan revivals are as delicate as a souffle: if the work doesn’t rise, the result is as flat as a pancake. But, you won’t need to carry any maple syrup along to sweeten this Pinafore. It rises to the heights.

The scenic design by Peter Crompton and the scrumptious costumes by Judy Jackson appear to cut no corners and are beautifully lit by Brittany Mellerson. Ellen Brooks’s stage direction is charming and fluid, and Baker Peeples conducts with a sure hand.

Everything shines, but special appreciation is due to the ensemble/chorus who manage the music beautifully and create individual characters for each sailor, sister, cousin, and aunt. The romantic leads are romantic, and the Captain and his Buttercup (Michael Grammer and Sonia Gariaeff) create marvelous chemistry.

And then there’s J. Lawrence Ewing as Sir Joseph Porter. Sir Joseph is one of the greatest comic creations of the English theatre, and Ewing is up to the demands of the part. Surely there has never been a funnier, more assured, more pompous or better-sung rendition since Pinafore first set sail. If this were Broadway, Ewing would deserve a Tony nomination and that’s no exaggeration.

So give three cheers and one cheer more for a superlative production of the “Pinafore”!

“HMS Pinafore” plays at Livermore Performing Arts Center August 24th & 25th, 2019. For further information, click here.

Rating: ***** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

“H.M.S. Pinafore” by Gilbert & Sullivan. Produced by Lamplighters Music Theatre. Director: Ellen Brooks. Conductor/Music Director: Baker Peeples. Costume Design: Judy Jackson. Scenic Design: Peter Crompton. Lighting Design: Brittany Mellerson. 


Stephanie Corcoran: Ellen Leslie/Jennifer Mitchell. Ralcph Rackstraw: Jackson Beaman/Patrick Hagen. Captain Corcoran: Michael Grammer. Buttercup: Sonia Gariaeff. Sir Joseph Porter: F. Lawrence Ewing. Dick Deadeye: William Neely. Cousin Hebe: Elana Cowen. Boatswain’s Mate: Steven Kahlich. Chorus of Sailors: Nicholas Dahlman, Duc Duong, Chris Facht, Don Hardwick, Jason Jia, Nick Main, Eric Ratner, Alan Roberts. Chorus of Sisters, Cousins, and Aunts: Miranda Ashlock, Laura Barragan, Natalie Buck-Bauer, Mary Coleston, Abigail Green, Angela Jaijko, Rachel Krah, Camille Lake, Bridget Maguire-Colton, Liz Pasha, Genevieve Saldanha, Sarah Szeibel, Karen-Meredith Wolf.





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