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Yo, Ho, Ho, It's a Fabulous Show!!!

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Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2015 12:00 am

Lucky Livermore! “HMS Pinafore” will be sailing into the Bankhead Theater August 22 and 23, and it’s a sparkling end-of-summer treat! This Gilbert and Sullivan fan drove up to the opening night at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Theater, and can give the show a 21-gun salute as a great entertainment for young and old.

Performing this theatrical gem will be the internationally-judged top G&S company in the world, San Francisco’s own Lamplighters.

The plot is familiar to many, featuring thwarted young lovers, with still remarkably-relevant satire about incompetent government officials, class snobbery, and hide-bound social traditions. In this case it’s a lowest-rank sailor longing to marry his high-born captain’s daughter Josephine. She is also sought in marriage by the First Lord of the British Navy, Sir Joseph Porter, a preening pompous blockhead and a laughable buffoon at first sight.

What a choice for a delicately-bred young lady, who blushes for her weakness in loving such a low-class fellow, and shudders to imagine the wretched lifestyle she might have to endure with him. On the other hand, she finds her rich and high-ranked suitor an insufferable bore, and admits that his attentions “nauseate” her, despite the genteel future he can offer.

Her father Captain Corcoran is similarly perplexed, being attracted to Buttercup, a lowly “bumboat woman," who sells snacks and trinkets to the sailors, but he is too class-conscious to admit his tender feelings for her. Luckily , a timely reversal of fortunes leads to the blissfully happy ending everyone expects.

On the way, the audience is treated to an entertaining series of plots and schemes, and some of the most beautiful music ever written. Josephine, silver-voiced Jennifer Ashworth/Ellen Leslie has two breathtakingly glorious coloratura arias, each a show-stopper, while her father Jonathan Spencer/Robby Stafford croons a lovely ballad to the magnificent full moon, sadly expressing his predicament. Meanwhile, poor Ralph the sailor (pronounced Rafe in England – don’t ask), sung by Samuel Faustine/Aaron Gallington warbles a passionate declaration of hopeless love, showcasing a rich tenor voice and desperate ardor.

Buttercup, a “plump and pleasing person” (Sonia Garieff/Deborah Rosengaus) introduces herself with the famous “I’m called Little Buttercup," and later the cunningly mysterious “Things are seldom what they seem," as well as the hilarious tell-all confession “A many years ago." It takes a really fine singing actress to deliver such multi-faceted songs. The Lamplighters are truly fortunate to have two marvelous ladies in this role.

In fact, the company has become remarkable for providing a strong double cast for all major characters.

Of course, the most extravagantly fabulous person in the show is Sir Joseph Porter, played to perfection by both F. Lawrence Ewing and Chris Uzelac. It is a plum role, featuring comic al songs such as “When I was a lad," describing in hysterical detail the ludicrous way he rose to his prominent position, not by ability, but by political gamesmanship. As a matter of record he proudly relates that he had never even seen a ship (except for a lucrative legal partner-ship ) before being appointed First Lord of the Admiralty.

Everything the man says is funny, highlighted by physical comedy that highlights his foolishness, especially when delivered by the two limber-limbed rubber-faced actors.

A highlight of the performance is always the trio by Josephine, her father, and Sr. Joseph, after he reassures her that ‘LOVE LEVELS ALL RANKS.' Each is overjoyed: the men because they believe that Josephine is agreeing to the prestigious marriage, and she because she has heard a rationale for eloping with Ralph.

The ensuing song and dance routine is always the merriest and wackiest in the show, but in this production witty new additions take it delightfully over the top, thanks to innovative director Phil Lowery. He also adds original dialogue from the G&S Archives (housed in Boise State University’s Department of Mathematics – don’t ask!) that highlights the role Cousin Hebe. She is the doyenne of that admiring chorus of “his sisters and his cousins and his aunts" who follow Sir Joseph everywhere. It was a sprightly debut role for newcomer Cabiria Jacobsen.

A hearty chorus of sailors opens the show with the jaunty “We sail the ocean blue," and their strong voices bring lively vigor, from the rousing chorale “A British tar (sailor) is a soaring soul “ to the hushed elopement ditty “Carefully on tiptoe stealing…”. The ladies add a delightfully flirtatious tone with their “Gaily tripping, lightly skipping." All combine in the final full-throated tribute praising British seamen, “For he is an Englishman," despite the obvious silliness of the words.

Try:”For he himself has said it, and it’s greatly to his credit, that he is an Englishman!” What a perfect way to skewer the irrational Victorian belief that the English were a superior breed who deserved to dominate the world. Take that, National Pomposity!

Most prominent of the sailors is Dick Deadeye, a wonderfully misanthropic malcontent who mutters dire predictions about the young lovers’ elopement plans, and even betrays their secret to the captain. Company favorite Charles Martin and prize-winning veteran Tim Hart share the honors for their deliciously snarky performances.

The professional Lamplighters Orchestra is responding enthusiastically to the lively direction of new conductor David Moschler, who brings years of experience to the podium.

“Pinafore” is a treasure trove of great music, gorgeous singing, a magnificent set (watch for that magnificent full moon) , spiffy period costumes, and the outrageous fun that is always the Lamplighters’ hallmark. Catch their infectious spirit at Livermore’s Bankhead Theater August 22 and 23, before this wonderful ship sails away. For tickets call 925-373-6800 or go to bankhead theater.org. The theater is located at 2400 First Street in downtown Livermore.

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