Sunday, July 24, 2011

Beeman--Review of H.M.S. Pinafore at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, July 24, 2011

H.M.S. Pinafore at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. July 24, 2011. Here is a brief review.

I have no problem with adapting even very sacred stage works. We have Peter Brook's A Magic Flute at the Lincoln Center Festival and his former La Tragedie de Carmen as well as Jeune Lune's Figaro and Don Giovanni. There is also the Hot Mikado, the Jazz Mikado etc., but every one of these doesn't pretend to be the original. This production falls very far from the original, but doesn't bother to change the title or the authorship. It introduces new music (from Princess Ida and Iolanthe), cuts out much other music (the Overture for one), and adds new story lines.

Mostly, however, Andrew Cooke, with the apparent blessing of the producer and director, has given this the Chanhassen Dinner Theater makeover. He has rewritten almost every note of the show in a cross between Andrew Lloyd Weber and Kander and Ebb with Jimmi Hendrix thrown in from time to time. Of course Sullivan's meticulous orchestration is completely gone. Cooke changes time signatures, running pieces written originally in 3/4 in 4/4 fox-trot tempo. Sometimes it works. Buttercup's (Christina Baldwin) numbers in Latin rhythms are amusing. But he also redoes the harmonies, adds measures to the music and cuts out many others. It is not respectful of Sullivan--not that that really matters theatrically, but his changes-for-the-sake-of-change don't really add to the piece. I mean, does Cooke think he can do better word setting than Sullivan? If you know the original you know that he can not. One over-the-top change was to give the full Phantom treatment with ooh and ahh chorus in the background to Captain Corcoran's (a lithe Robert O. Berdahl) second act piece "Fair Moon." Admittedly this often falls flat at the lowest point in the arc of the show, but I expected Bea Arthur to swing down on her crescent-moon prop at the end. It threw the show off balance, as the plot needs to build from this point, not drop.

Ralph Rackstraw (Aleks Knezevich) is a great actor and dancer, but he is not a tenor. Dick Deadeye (Lee Mark Nelson in this performance subbing for Jason Simon) is not a bass. Their "money notes" are taken up or down an octave. Josephine's (Heather Lindell) second act aria, "A Simple Sailor" could be perfect in a pop styling if Cooke had left the harmonic rhythm in place. It sounded rushed and nowhere near a beautiful and affecting as the original, as if Cooke didn't think the audience could listen to five minutes of sustained solo music.

The original show is short--it is often done with a curtain-raiser. The added dance numbers (a tap routine for "He is an Englishman" and other extra music) lengthens it by a half hour. The production team obviously thought people would be bored by a straight production, so they gild the lily and pull out all the stops--stage machinery, mirror balls, balloons, birds, fish, tangos, tap numbers and drop-trou slapstick comedy.

All that said, the cast is outstanding, as is the snappy stage direction. The cast members work their tails off, and if one has no idea at all about the original show, it must certainly be entertaining, but I winced at every silly Broadway mid-number cliche key change and meaningless pop-styling. Innovate, yes, absolutely, but don't innovate just to do it, and for heaven's sake, be true to the musical values of the original.