19th-24th March 2007
The smash hit Australian adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta
Pinafore is the third and final part of the smash-hit Essgee G&S trilogy following The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. Its gala opening at the Victorian Arts Centre's State Theatre was met by ecstatic reviews: "A twenty four carat triumph" said The Australian's Peter Birch; and this new and innovative approach to Gilbert and Sullivan has enjoyed nearly four year of capacity houses in Australia and New Zealand. Among the highlights of the production are the Absolutely Fabulettes, an hilarious three-part female chorus.
The original HMS Pinafore was the fourth collaboration between Gilbert & Sullivan was their first blockbuster hit: "HMS Pinafore", or "The Lass That Loved a Sailor." This opera opened May 28, 1878 at the Opera Comique. It ran for 571 performances and became a huge fad in England, as well as in America, being copied illegally by dozens of performing companies in the US, as well as being presented there by Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte themselves.
Pinafore is among the most popular Gilbert and Sullivan operas, perhaps because of its infectious tunes and generally well-constructed libretto. Drawing on several of his earlier "bab ballad" poems, Gilbert embued HMS Pinafore with mirth and silliness to spare. The opera's gentle satire reprises and builds upon one of The Sorcerer's themes: Love between members of different social classes.
The action takes place on the Quarterdeck of "H.M.S. Pinafore," 1878.
We Sail the Ocean Blue / Sailors
The Hours Creep on Apace / Josephine
The sailors on the HMS Pinafore are scrubbing the decks and polishing the brass preparing for the arrival of Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty (We Sail The Ocean Blue). Sir Joseph is coming today to ask for the Captain's daughter's hand in marriage. It is payday on the Pinafore and Buttercup, a bumboat gypsy woman, arrives to sell her wares (I'm Called Little Buttercup). Buttercup alludes to a dark secret she is hiding. It appears that the entire crew owe money to Dick Deadeye. Dick is a fellow seaman, the ship's contraband supplier, money lender, and mischief maker (Disagreeable Man).
We next meet Ralph Rackstraw, pronounced Raife. He loves the Captain's daughter Josephine, but knows that she is much above his station (A Maiden Fair To See). Dick Deadeye firmly believes in England's class system and he tells Ralph that his love for the high born beauty is doomed, "a foremast hand don't marry no Captain's daughter".
Captain Corcoran appears on deck to inspect his crew (My Gallant Crew). The Captain confides in Buttercup that his daughter is showing little interest in the prospect of marriage to Sir Joseph Porter. Josephine appears and tells her father that she loves a humble sailor on board his own ship (Sorry Her Lot), but she promises the Captain that the sailor shall never know it.
The Captain prepares his welcome speech for Sir Joseph as the crew get ready for inspection (Over the Bright Blue Sea/Sir Joseph's Barge Is Seen/Now Give Three Cheers). Sir Joseph's entourage precede him.
They are his sister, his cousin, and his aunt (Gaily Tripping). Sir Joseph comes on board and explains his remarkable rise in rank from office boy to First Lord (When I Was A Lad). Sir Joseph is impressed with Ralph and tells him that a British sailor is any man's equal. This idea prompts Ralph to plan to declare his love for Josephine and all the crew approve, except for Dick Deadeye. The crew then sing the song that Sir Joseph has written to encourage independence of thought and action in the lower ranks (A British Tar).
Ralph confesses to Josephine that he loves her, but she keeps her promise to her father and haughtily rejects Ralph (Refrain, Audacious Tar). The crew tries to comfort Ralph, though Dick Deadeye rubs salt in the wound (I Told You So). Ralph is inconsolable and opts for suicide. (Can I Survive This Overbearing). Just in time, Josephine confesses her love for her able seaman. The couple decide to elope that night with the help of the ship's crew. Only Dick Deadeye opposes the couple's plans. All others hail the loving couple (Let's Give Three Cheers For The Sailors Bride).
It is the evening and Sir Joseph teaches the Captain to dance a hornpipe while Josephine is torn between her love for Ralph and her sense of duty to her father and her class (The Hours Creep On A Pace). The crew gamble their wages away in Dick Deadeye's illegal casino (The Roulette Song). The Captain is at his wits' end with his crew acting strangely, and Sir Joseph feeling rejected by the Captain's unhappy daughter (Fair Moon To Thee I Sing). In the shadows, Little Buttercup reveals her tenderness for the Captain, but she too is trapped in the tyranny of class and cannot declare her true feelings. Buttercup warns the Captain not to take things at face value (Things Are Seldom What They Seem). Ralph and Josephine face the fact that they either accept the world's sorrow and restrictions or they follow their hearts (In Sailing O'er Life's Ocean Wide/The World Is But A Broken Toy). Sir Joseph is ready to give up pursuing Josephine, but the Captain and Dick Deadeye convince him that she may feel intimidated by Sir Joseph's exalted position. If Sir Joseph would tell her of his belief that love levels all rank, she might have a change of mind (Nothing Venture Nothing Win). Sir Joseph agrees and approaches Josephine relaying the idea that love levels all rank. This convinces Josephine to follow her heart and marry her true love, Ralph (Never Mind The Why Or Wherefore). Dick Deadeye tells the Captain of Josephine and Ralph's plans (Kind Captain, I've Important Information). The furious Captain hides in order to catch the elopers (Carefully On Tiptoe Stealing). Captain Corcoran denounces his daughter and her fiance, but they protest that according to Sir Joseph's philosophy, a British sailor is the equal of anyone in the world (He Is An Englishman).
Affronted by events, the Captain swears, only to be sent to his cabin by Sir Joseph. When Sir Joseph learns of Ralph's love for Josephine, he sends Ralph to the ship's prison. At this point, Little Buttercup reveals her terrible secret (A Many Years Ago). When she was a nurse, she carelessly mixed up two babies, one of low birth, the other a patrician. The two babies were Ralph and Captain Corcoran. As a result, Ralph is really the high-born Captain, and the Captain is none other than the common Ralph. In light of these circumstances, Sir Joseph finds it impossible to marry the low born Josephine, so he hands Josephine over to Ralph. That also means that the former high born Captain is a common sailor and able to wed Little Buttercup.
Sir Joseph laments that he will have to spend the rest of his days alone. But Dick assures Sir Joseph that what he needs is a Secretary Of The Navy to look out for Sir Joseph and his sister, his cousin and his aunt. Dick accepts the position immediately. (Oh Joy, Oh Rapture Unforeseen!)
(information courtessy of Essgee productions)
Piracy by partners and rival producers plagued Gilbert and Sullivan when HMS Pinafore first set sail from London's Opéra Comique in May 1878. An original story derived (pirated?) from Gilbert's own earlier Bab Ballads "Captain Reece", "Joe Golightly" and "The Bumboat Woman's Story", Pinafore received largely excellent reviews praising Gilbert's militarily drilled and punctiliously designed production. Indeed, not only were the roles like Sir Joseph Porter and Captain Corcoran tailor-made for George Grossmith and Rutland Barrington, but also the costumes, tailor-made by top naval tailors in Portsmouth, where the plot of the operetta takes place.
All this should have ensured smooth passage for G & S's fourth collaboration, but a rare enough long, hot London summer combined with the sleazy location of the Opéra-Comique meant that despite a largely enthusiastic press reception, the piece's box-office takings began to sink rapidly and the producers put up closing notices, thus almost fulfilling the prophecy of one critical Cassandra that this was "a frothy production destined soon to subside into nothingness."
Poised between shrewdness and desperation, Sullivan included a Pinafore selection in a Prom Concert he was conducting at Covent Garden. So successful did this prove that almost overnight, HMS Pinafore was not just refloated - 10,000 copies of the score were sold in a single day - but set sailing full steam ahead towards its 571 London performances, not to mention two touring companies playing the length and breadth of England - with Ireland thrown in! Pinafore mania swept London, with most people delighting in Sullivan's jaunty airs and Gilbert's ribbing of class distinction, the navy and in particular of the First Lord (W.H. Smith) who rose to prominence despite the fact that the only ship he had ever sailed in was a junior partnership. The lines "What never? Well, hardly ever!" became a national catch-cry.
All this should have been the happy ending that all but one of the Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas resolve in, but a squall arose in the form of D'Oyly Carte's greedy co-producers who decided to dump their partner and set up a pirate production of the newly-rescued hit at the not inappropriately named Aquarium Theatre. To this end, they hired a band of thugs to invade the Opera- Comique on the last night before their partnership agreement lapsed. A surprised Sir Joseph Porter (Grossmith) not to mention a bewildered audience, witnessed a backstage battle as the invaders tried to take away the scenery mid-performance, only to be repulsed by the faithful stage-hands. The illegal production did, in fact, take place but survived only 91 performances, while the official HMS Pinafore never looked back.
But international pirates now attacked the box-office treasure ship, and all over America there was outbreak of pirate productions of dubious artistic value. Ralph Rackstraw was played by a woman in New York, while in another version, a seven foot man played Buttercup in drag. There were at least two all-black versions, while in another New York interpretation, Handel's Hallelujah Chorus was thoughtfully added. All these productions made handsome profits for their buccaneer impresarios with not a penny going to the writers or their partner, D'Oyly Carte. By March 1879, New York had eight different companies playing Pinafore, while Philadelphia had six, including a German language version. D'Oyly Carte decided to take on the New World privateers, and his company sailed into New York's harbour past a line of boats with banners hailing HMS Pinafore and with bands pumping out its melodies. There was even a protest ship in the form of a minstrel version flying a "No Pinafore" flag. The authentic American Pinafore opened on December 1st, 1879. One rather unexpected member of the chorus was a bearded sailor named W.S. Gilbert.
And in the southern hemisphere, American and Australian pirates sailed into Sydney on May 3rd, 1879 with an unauthorised HMS Pinafore at the School of Arts. Soon there were two Melbourne pirate versions opening simultaneously, one an extraordinary Stewart family affair starring the twenty-one-year-old and soon to be famous Nellie as Ralph (what is it about Pinafore that attracts cross dressing?) with her sisters (though not her cousins and her aunts) as Josephine and Buttercup, her brother as Captain Corcoran and her father as Sir Joseph.
Australia's first authorised HMS Pinafore was under the banner of J.C.Williamson and premiered in Sydney at the Theatre Royal with the entrepreneur himself playing Sir Joseph and his wife, Maggie Moore, as Josephine. The line of succession of First Lords Down Under was to continue with Howard Vernon, George Lauri, Ivan Menzies, Grahame Clifford, Dennis Olsen, Norman Yemm, Paul Eddington and now originally for Essgee is Drew Forsythe.
With The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore has always been a Savoy favourite. It was revived by D'Oyly Carte in London in 1887, 1899 and 1908 and subsequently was always played in D'Oyly Carte repertoire. There was an authorised German version in Berlin in 1881 entitled Amor an Bord (Love on Board) and in 1901, a French production at St Edmund's College in Douai, though how the Normandy natives responded to the anthem "He is an Englishman" is not recorded.
There are at least seven separate recordings of Pinafore, the first a two-record set made in 1930 and featuring Sir Henry Lytton, the only performer ever to have been knighted for services to Gilbert and Sullivan.
That HMS Pinafore had sailed into the harbour of international familiarity might have been guessed from the fact that in 1893, Gilbert introduced the character of Captain Corcoran in his second-last libretto, Utopia Limited. This made Captain Corcoran the only Savoy character to appear in two operas.
Pinafore is the third and final part to the Essgee historic trilogy. After closing their New Zealand production of The Pirates of Penzance in early November 1996, later the same month, the Essgee group commenced rehearsals for their version of Pinafore in Brisbane Australia for a Melbourne opening due in January 1997. Much of the pre-production and conceptualising had been taking place on the road between Australia and New Zealand for over a year, as it was common knowledge that the company and its players were set to create a new Pinafore. The set was the most unusual of the three as it was a three-dimensional rotating version of a ship as conceptualised by designer Graham Maclean. The opportunity was therefore taken to capitalise on the revolving stage and incorporate a lot of the action at different angles of the ship and even whilst in motion. It was therefore planned that the set be fully built and completed in advance and a giant warehouse was hired for the rehearsal stage equipped with stage crew so the cast and creative crew could 'play' and invent much of the action during the rehearsal process. This later was to minimise lengthy technical rehearsals in the theatre saving time and money.
About the only new recruit to the company was actress Amanda Muggleton who had captivated the hearts of all Australians with her definitive interpretation of Shirley Valentine. This was to be Amanda's first singing role and she immediately captured the spirit that director Craig Schaefer was looking for in creating a new and original styled Buttercup fit to play opposite a strong and sexy Captain Corcoran. Amanda was not however available to play the New Zealand portion of the tour which fell in the middle of the run. A local star was sought to replace her for this section of the season and the show hit the jackpot in casting Rima Te Wiata who was showbusiness royalty having both parents as famous artists. Rima joined the company in Sydney (two months after opening) to commence rehearsing the role in preparation for the New Zealand premiere and immediately was a firm favourite with all company members. With the initial rehearsals in Brisbane, all other cast members had worked together for some time now with the other ESSGEE repertoire and this created a unique sort of 'short-hand' in rehearsals and workshopping various ideas. Rehearsals went very smoothly and after breaking for Christmas, the company all transferred to Melbourne ready for the big opening and the Victorian Arts Centre's State Theatre. A New Year's Eve preview was followed by two other previews before the gala opening which was met with unanimous and rave reviews. "A twenty four carat triumph" said The Australian's Peter Birch.
Essgee had succeeded where all others had failed. They had achieved what no other theatrical company could - three hit musicals in a row - a trilogy at that. This appears to be unmatched in modern times as there are no comparisons in having succeeded in presenting a trilogy of musicals with common writers; producers and actors. Gallaher was originally prompted by the marketing success of film trilogies such as Speilberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and Lucas's "Star Wars" but had created something altogether unique in the way we view and market a modern stage musical. This new and innovative way was enticing people back to the theatre over and over again as well as new recruits to the theatre who were by now absolute converts.
The finale was the ultimate topper. Not only was there to be a mega-mix as in the previous two shows, but a Megga-Mega-Mix (or Omega-Mix as the director coined it) where all three shows were revisited in a slick 7 minute compilation equipped with original costumes from Pirates and Mikado with all actors playing their former roles. The Omega-Mix starts exactly as the previous MegaMix does and introduced by Buttercup and the sailors but this time with US Navy caps which are suddenly flung into the audience. The Absolutely Fabulettes (as they had now become) lead the audience through the various melodies to introduce The Mikado. With that, David Gould is revealed on the revolving deck dressed in the character that made him so loved. The audience goes mad. Drew Forsythe suddenly appears as Ko-Ko to more screams of delight as this potpourri of colour and movement unravels. Helen Donaldson skips out as Yum Yum and one-third of the ensemble is dressed in the original Mikado costumes designed by Graham Maclean. The final group of ensemble players reappear dressed of course as pirates and all suddenly know who is about to be revealed - but from where? Suddenly from high above comes Frederic and The Pirate King (Gallaher & English) flying in like Peter Pan and Captain Hook. The audience roars and cannot help but be swept up in the excitement of a true Grande Finale. Fireworks spark for the final chorus of Cat-Like Tread and the trilogy has come to an end. Nearly four year later, there are capacity theatre houses still screaming for more.
A video was also recorded of this production and as with Essgee's The Mikado, it was again recorded in New Zealand during the season in Auckland. The show was actually recorded twice as it was felt that Australian audiences would still wish to see Amanda Muggleton in the recorded version of the show as she had played it right across Australia. It was also felt that New Zealanders may prefer to see their own Buttercup played by Rima Te Wiata. Amanda Muggleton was therefore flown to New Zealand after not playing the role for over two months and given a couple of days of intensive revision in readiness for the live video recording. The version with Amanda contained a more colloquial version for Australian audiences and Rima played the role for her local following. The video version starring Rima was released through TV-NZ and the Australian version directly by Essgee. The Australian version has recently been released to DVD and continues to sell as strongly as Pirates and Mikado. All three videos in this trilogy of musicals are now available on DVD and all have attained Platinum status. The video broadcast of Pinafore has recently been sold to pay-tv in Australia and The United Kingdom.