Savs in the News

Edward A. Jajko wrote a review of the Stanford Savoyards' production of HMS Pinafore: The Next Generation in the April 2013 issue of "The Trumpet Bray," the newsletter of the New England Gilbert & Sullivan Society.

He also sent a copy of the Pinafore DVD to Michael Miller, the Founder and Director of the Operetta Foundation in Los Angeles. In Mr. Jajko's words, "He found the production by the Stanford Savoyards to be amazingly clever; the sets were likewise amazing. He said that it was nice to see a new "take" on the G&S show and found the Stanford Savoyards' production to be one of great novelty. He says that the DVD is a welcome addition to the Operetta Archives."

H.M.S. Pinafore, Stanford Savoyards, February, 2013 by Edward A. Jajko

My wife and I have heard all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore numerous times – two or three at the Ohio Light Opera and countless other times with companies in Connecticut and California. Recently, we saw HMS Pinafore in a production where no cast has gone before – well, perhaps only a few.

The Savoyards, of Stanford University, presented HMS Pinafore or, the Lass That Loved a Sailor - that was the title that appears on the inside of the program. On the cover of the program, however, the title is HMS Pinafore – The Next Generation.” And below the title is a drawing of the Starship Enterprise.

The stage set was the bridge of the Starship Enterprise of The Next Generation series, with two command desks, with hinged tops, at either side, and at stage center, the curved bridge with three command chairs in front. The walls of the set were made to look like the computer and communication screens found on the TV program. A neat bit of special effects was the doors that allowed entrance onto the stage from the wings. They opened like the ones familiar from the Star Trek shows. The only thing that was missing was a slick “whoosh” sound.

The overture began with familiar music not from Sir Arthur Sullivan, but from “Star Trek – The Next Generation”: shimmering violin music that then segued nicely into the overture to H.M.S. Pinafore.

Singing in this production was not up to the standard of Stanford Savoyards shows we have seen in the past. But much of the fun of this version of Pinafore was in the mash-up of G&S with the world of Star Trek. This blend apparently has its root in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Commander Data goes crazy and steals a small space ship. He is chased by Captain Picard and Commander Worf. During the chase, Picard recalls that Data was rehearsing HMS Pinafore when he went haywire (a not unexplainable event). Picard begins singing “An English tar..” and encourages Worf to join in. Data joins in, also, from his craft, and is distracted enough that Picard and Worf can latch onto his ship and take him back to the Enterprise. Clips of this episode are available on YouTube.

Dialogue was delicately and judiciously adjusted for this version of Pinafore. At one point, for example, Captain Corcoran asks Buttercup why she did not beam down to shore. There was no wholesale rewriting of the words of W.S. Gilbert to fit the new context, only the occasional tweaking.

An important feature of this production was the way the characters were presented. Captain Corcoran was presented as Jean-Luc Picard, Ralph Rackstraw was William Riker, Bill Bobstay was Data, Bob Becket was a somewhat older Geordi La Forge, and Dick Deadeye was Commander Worf.

Josephine, the Captain's daughter, was Counselor Troi, and her entrance in the counselor's uniform and an extremely full wig that cascaded down her back brought much laughter from the audience – as had the Captain's entrance with his shaved head and Worf's with his swarthy Klingon look. Cousin Hebe, Sir Joseph's cousin, was an Orion slave, completely green, skin and all. Little Buttercup was Lwaxana Troi. And the Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter, ruler of the Queen's Navy, was a time-transported Admiral James T. Kirk. The male chorus was in The Next Generation uniforms. The Admiral's Sisters and his cousins and his aunts were a gaggle of differently-garbed and coifed female characters from various episodes of TNG. The pace of the show was well-maintained by the cast on stage and by the conductor, Madeleine Graham.

This production by the Stanford Savoyards was independent of several done previously in Toronto and L.A. Changes to Gilbert's words were few and were made by the directors, Jan Heiman and Ravi Soundarajan, and by conductor Madeleine Graham, Brian Chin, who played Ralph Rackstraw, and Erica Lynn McCay, the set designer. There may be more such themed productions of G&S by the Stanford Savoyards in future. Last year, they did a Firefly-themed Pirates, which this reviewer regrets having missed. He has seen The Firefly; he has seen The Pirates of Penzance. Now he has to rely on his imagination to meld the two.

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