‘HMS Pinafore’ docking at IUP in May

Iconic Gilbert and Sullivan work is family-friendly comic opera for all ages

Courtesy photo The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players perform in a recent production of “HMS Pinafore, or The Lass That Loved a Sailor.”

A New York City repertory company is bringing its Gilbert and Sullivan expertise to an Indiana stage with its production of the funny “HMS Pinafore, or The Lass That Loved a Sailor.”

Accompanied by its full-pit orchestra, the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players will perform the comic opera at 7 p.m. May 3 at the Fisher Auditorium on the campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

“We bring in 23 actors and an orchestra of 18,” said David Wannen, executive director of NYGSP. “It’s one of the larger shows. We go on the road with 45 people, including the crew.

“It’s bigger than a Broadway show in many respects. It has that professionalism. Many of our people go on to the Met (Metropolitan Opera).”

NYGSP was organized in 1974 and has become an institution for singers and their careers, he said.

“Some find their home here,” he added, noting that its professional actors, members of the Actors Equity Association — the union representing theater actors — have been with the company for an average of 12 years.

“We live, eat, breathe Gilbert and Sullivan,” he said. “We all love it, very much.”

The company changes nothing in the music written by the pair and “generally”sticks to the plot they wrote, as well, Wannen said.

“We do sometimes add some fun, which makes it pop for the modern audience,” he said. “Maybe add a little spice of humor, a reference here or there.”

If you go, look for “one that is really, really funny” in the second act, Wannen hinted.

The company is known for incorporating a more “New York style” movement, he said.

“We keep it lively, a little more musical feel, just to add another element,” he said. “We do have an ‘A’ pool of talent to draw from.”

Hank Knerr, executive director of IUP’s Lively Arts program that is sponsoring the show, said there are few companies that specialize in the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan.

The NYGSP “has a reputation as being the foremost presenter and interpreter of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas,” he added.

Knerr noted that the company took on “The Mikado,” a controversial G&S piece that uses racial sterotypes of the Japanese. NYGSP had planned the show for its 2015 season, but a backlash on social media caused it to delay production a year. After a remake, the show opened in December to rave reviews, including from the New York Times, Wannen noted.

“It was a new way of doing it, more appropriate for 21st-century cultural feelings,” he said.

Wannen visited IUP earlier this week to a talk on that experience with producing “Mikado,” Knerr said.

“It’s a case study of what they went through both artistically and with public relations,” he said.

Knerr said the most popular Gilbert and Sullivan piece probably is “Pirates of Penzance.” But IUP had offerered that previously and wanted to do something different.

And he helped develop a six-city tour of NYGSP’s “HMS Pinafore.”

First performed at London’s Opera Comique in 1878, the production has remained popular on both sides of the Atlantic since.

Romantic sailors and their sisters, cousins and aunts sing and dance their way across the deck of the fanciful British naval vessel, in a most elaborate setting. The story sends satirical jabs at the highly regarded British Navy and at rigid Victorian class distinctions which remain as readily understandable in the new millennium as they were over a century ago, Knerr said.

“Like all Gilbert & Sullivan (pieces), it’s very light, family-oriented and fun music,” he said.

A 7 p.m. start time makes it more family friendly “so all the kids can come,” Knerr added.

Wannen reiterated that the show is appropriate for all ages.

“My son saw it when he was 4 and he loved it; I saw it when I was 4,” he said. “Each age takes something away from it. Kids love the catchy tunes. Parents love it and they understand the political satire, the charm and wit of the lyrics. Grandparents love it because it brings back memories … It’s one of the best things for an entire family to see. If you’re feeling low, it’s guaranteed to lift you up.”

Mirror Staff Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.


If you go

What: New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ ‘HMS Pinafore’

Where: Fisher Auditorium, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

When: 7 p.m., May 3

Admission: $18 to $40

Tickets/more info: www.iup.edu/livelyarts/music/hms-pinafore