Gilbert and Sullivan’s 19th-century comic operas require a light touch. When done well, they can be a delightful blend of whimsical exuberance and lighthearted satire.
Cincinnati Music Theatre’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore, directed by Rick Kramer, has a modicum of these qualities, but not enough. The production’s heavy-handedness is not enough to sink the ship; it just lists a little.
The story concerns the affairs of a young seaman aboard the Pinafore, Ralph Rackstraw (Charlie Greer), in love with the captain’s daughter, the ravishing young Josephine (Bree Sprankle). Alas, class differences make this union impossible — think Titanic. Captain Corcoran (David Shough) wants to marry his daughter off to Admiral Porter (Jerry Rape) and in turn secretly fancies the bumboat woman Buttercup (Kendra Struthers).
The play’s leading romantic couple are excellent singers, but they fall short in the acting department. Greer creates a likeable young chap, but he is not nearly dashing enough for the role of seaman Rackstraw. His gestures seem choreographed, and he never appears to be in command. Sprankle has a beautiful soprano voice, but she plays the part of the ingénue with an extremely heavy hand. Where is the wit, the innocent bantering, the sheer delightfulness of Josephine, the well-heeled but winsome Victorian flower? Sprankle is much too abrasive for the character, particularly in contrast to her meek leading man.
On the other hand, Struthers’ Buttercup hits just the right note of knowing comedy. She is genuine but larger than life. And Rape, a past Cincinnati Entertainment Award winner, is aces as Admiral Porter. He wears a hat reincarnated from a feather boa and is the real clown of the piece. He plays knowingly to the audience without overdoing it — a horny old rubber-faced admiral who’s never sailed a day in his life.
The choral singing is fine but over-amplified (blasting during the louder notes), and the chorus’s diction is impeccable.
Choreography is almost nonexistent, and what is here is sloppily executed. David Zlatic’s set is handsome, heavy and dark wood-toned, but like most of the production, it’s just not light and breezy enough to truly sail this H.M.S. Pinafore.
H.M.S. PINAFORE, presented by Cincinnati Music Theatre, continues through Nov. 15 at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson Kaplan Theatre. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.