Any discussion of this Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre production must start with: The Concept. It’s an unusual one, to say the least.
However, I’m not going to start with it. I want to discuss the fine voices and fine performances before I tackle that much knottier problem.
This is a superbly sung version of a Gilbert and Sullivan classic. You’ll hear wonderful versions of such great tunes as “We Sail the Ocean Blue,” “I’m Called Little Buttercup,” “When I Was a Lad” and “He is an Englishman,” accompanied by an excellent 17-piece orchestra.
Leading the way is Michael Muzatko as the common sailor Ralph Rackstraw. Muzatko has a terrific, well-controlled, perfectly-in-pitch voice. He also brings a lot of boyish energy to his role.
Julie Powell’s voice is equally strong and as pure as Josephine, the captain’s daughter who is in love with Ralph. Powell has proven that she can tackle any singing role, whether light musical comedy or more demanding fare.
I also loved Laura Dickinson, who made a charming Buttercup, and John Cooper, whose big booming voice was perfect for the pompous Captain Corcoran.
And Patrick Treadway made a delightful Sir Joseph (the leader of the Queen’s Na-vee), especially considering that he took over the role from Ken Van Dine with only five days notice. Treadway also managed to put a lot of comic personality into this character, seeing as how he is dressed up like some kind of cat.
I guess I can’t avoid the subject of The Concept any longer. Director Roger Welch has made all of the characters in this version into toys. Toys come to life.
The introduction shows all of the toys lying around in a toy shop. When the toymaker (or somebody like that) leaves, all the toys spring to life and, well, stage a production of “H.M.S. Pinafore.” It’s “Babes in Toyland” meets Gilbert and Sullivan.
The sailors, including Rackstraw, are all Raggedy Andy dolls. The women in the chorus are all toy ducks. The captain is a toy soldier. Dick Deadeye is a rat (a toy rat?) and Josephine is a windup doll.
This concept has certain things to commend itself and, as the evening went on, it began to grow on me. For one thing, it provides endless opportunity for visual interest. The costumes (by Kathleen Hawley) are terrific.
And it prevents the show from getting into a rut. Never does anyone just stand there and sing. Welch and choreographer Lorna Hamilton always had all sorts of toylike antics going on around the stage. The ducks quack and shake their tails, the captain marches around the stage and gets stuck against a railing. It shakes up a show that many people have seen numerous times, and that’s good.
However, the concept has at least two disadvantages. The first is the most obvious one: It’s a little childish. I couldn’t help but think that watching a bunch of toys would seem far more delightful to an audience of children than to adults.
The second disadvantage is less obvious, but eventually more serious: The concept robs the performers of all grace. The sailors have to flop around constantly like a bunch of scarecrows in Oz. Josephine has to gesture in jerky, clockwork movements. The captain has to promenade around the stage in a stiff-legged, robotlike gait.
I found myself wanting them to cut it out, especially during some of Gilbert and Sullivan’s prettier songs. It was particularly frustrating to watch Josephine sing a graceful song, such as the “The Hours Creep On Apace,” while making herky-jerky hand gestures.
While I don’t think this concept was a slam-dunk success, neither do I think it marred the show too much. The basic pleasures of Gilbert and Sullivan are still here in abundance: catchy tunes, witty lyrics and clever satire.
“H.M.S. Pinafore,” continues through Saturday. For tickets, call 1-800-4-CDA-TIX or (208) 667-0254.
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “H.M.S. Pinafore” Friday, July 21, Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, North Idaho College