ELLSWORTH — One warm, bright spot o’ fun in the midst of 40 years of dreary Februaries has been the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Maine’s annual operetta. This years’ production of G&S’s first big hit, “HMS Pinafore” is no exception.
Colorful characters, catchy tunes, clever lyrics, what’s not to love?
And this year there was even more to love, with a new opening act, featuring the “Pinafore” cast. Traditionally, because “Pinafore” is relatively short, the operetta is paired with another even shorter G&S piece, “Trial by Jury.” But this year, which celebrates The Grand’s 80th anniversary, brought something new.
The “argument” here is a cast mutiny in which the performers refuse to do “Trial,” because it’s a bore, (this is rather true) and, instead, cherry-pick songs and characters from other shows to create a whole new story, poking fun at themselves and operettas in general. This turns out to be a hoot, especially a mash-up of patter songs with John Cunningham, Roland Dube and Casey Gaither. Aiden Pasha and David Porter also are delightfully dithery as Sirs Gilbert and Sullivan respectively.
This little warm-up act deftly put the Sunday afternoon audience in the mood for a visit to the 19th century Royal Navy and a typically topsy-turvy G&S plot.
Deborah Hangge is typically terrific as Buttercup, the good-hearted peddler with a terrible secret. It’s such fun to watch her perform as she throws her whole body and soul into her roles. While she has lost some projective power in the upper ranges of her voice, and some words are lost, who cares? Her expressions say everything.
Roland Dube who plays the HMS Pinafore’s snobbish Capt. Corcoran is another full-on performer, and after decades of dueting the two of them together are a well-oiled entertainment machine. But the big power-house of a performer is, as ever, Maurice Joseph Marshall who simply kills it as the pompous ass, Sir Joseph Porter. Marshall’s booming baritone hasn’t lost a single decibel over the years and his acting which started out first rate, just gets better.
As the ingénue, Josephine, Eileen York is a delicious paradox with a stature and soprano built to sing Wagner, and a speaking voice like Betty Boop. Peter Miller who has for 20 years been performing wonders as a set designer for local productions — including this one — makes his on-stage debut here as Josephine’s true love Ralph Rackstraw. All that can be said of this transition into the spotlight is that it is a valiant effort and his shipboard set design is excellent.
Linda Grindle’s costumes are colorful, the chorus fulsome and Scott Cleveland’s Orchestra tuneful. Take a break from February and attend one of these performances of “HMS Pinafore” which continue this coming weekend Friday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. and at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Feb.17-18. To reserve seats, call 667-9500 and visit www.grandonline.org.