The story of a wealthy girl falling for a lowly, poor boy is timeless. Told and retold, this depiction of class separation and immutable love is a classic. The University of Michigan’s Gilbert & Sullivan Society is portraying one version of the traditional tale with a sailor-filled, highland-dancing production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.”
Tomorrow, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre
The mission of UMGASS is to produce and perform the shows created by the joint venture of composer Arthur Sullivan and librettist William Gilbert. Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore” opened in 1878, in London’s Opera Comique, and ran for 571 performances. Now, the group will bring the comedic opera to the Ann Arbor stage with its rendition of a traditional Gilbert and Sullivan show that, according the the show’s musical director Dave Day, is one of the “big three G & S shows.”
The satire follows the story of Josephine, a captain’s daughter aboard her father’s ship, the H.M.S. Pinafore. As her father plans her marriage to the respectably affluent Sir Joseph, Josephine spends her time pining for a lowly sailor, Ralph Rackstraw.
“They’re poking fun at the social classes, and that you have to be a certain social class to marry another,” Day said. “It’s really a timeless thing that we still see today.”
Despite unrequited love and class inadequacy, the show is full of light interludes and comedic nuances that attempt to carry the show from one scene to another without much pause. The charged scenes all come to a head in the Act 1 finale, in which the bulk of the action happens.
“(Gilbert and Sullivan) shows are known for their Act 1 finales,” said Greg Hassold, artistic director for the show. “You build up all the drama and it winds up to a pitch, and very silly accidents evolve in the second act.”
To enhance the visual effects of the melodramatic exchanges, the show employs highland dance, a fast-paced form of Scottish dancing intricate in its technique and performance. Though classical highland dance involves single performances, the show adapted the style to fit the chorus. Hassold explained that the finale of the first act culminates with a large dance number that involves the finished highland-dance product.
“I’m particularly pleased with the chorus in (the Act 1 finale) scene,” Hassold said. “We took highland dance and adapted it so that a chorus can do it and so that it looks impressive. We’re doing a lot more dance than I’ve seen in some of the shows before, and it works.”
The liveliness of dance and variety in performance culminates in the sing-song tunes that reflect every turn and switch of mood, according to Day.
“You have a bunch of little sections that tie themselves together,” Day said. “You have a little bit of sadness, a little bit of happiness and a bit of doom from the sailor.”
“Musically, it becomes difficult because you go from one section to the other, no stops, and you’re going to have to be ready to quickly change the mood, not only of the singers but the orchestra as well,” he added. “The music follows the action really well, but it’s something you have to be prepared for.”
With the technically intense dancing, dramatically variant mood and catchy songs, “H.M.S. Pinafore” will aim to deliver a newfound, comedic spin on the age-old love story.