Ted Pappas, the artistic director of Pittsburgh Public Theater, returns to Gilbert and Sullivan Jan. 31-March 3 with a staging of the buoyant H.M.S. Pinafore.
Pappas previously staged the 1878 G&S operetta in 1994 and, in preparation for it, studied the original prompt books that were annotated by librettist-director Gilbert and his stage manager. Pappas also helmed The Pirates of Penzance for PPT two years ago, back when he was a guest director for the respected regional house in Pittsburgh. Some vets from that Pirates return to board Pinafore, presented on the thrust O'Reilly stage.
Of his working with the original prompt books for Pinafore, Pappas writes this in program notes for the current production: "I was fortunate to be given access to these rare and remarkable documents that are part of the Gilbert and Sullivan Collection housed at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. Hushed tones, white gloves, and a time limit were all part of the deal. But there I was with the original rehearsal scripts used by the great Gilbert himself, complete with re-writes, ideas for stage business, and detailed drawings of the blocking. Immediately a dilemma blossomed. Should I slavishly try and re-create Mr. Gilbert's original production to the best of my abilities, or should I opt for a completely new approach? My quandary was intensified by the actual casting of that 1994 production which featured members of the D'Oyly Carte Company, guardians of the Gilbert and Sullivan tradition. With the actors' blessing (and with my heart pounding) I came to the only logical conclusion — keep some of it and invent the rest. The actors playing Little Buttercup, Captain Corcoran and Sir Joseph Porter generously imparted to me some of the splendid rhythms, emphases and comic bits which had been handed down to them from previous generations of G&S players. The actors who groomed them were in turn groomed by their predecessors, with the line extending to the original actors playing those roles (including the legendary George Grossmith as Sir Joseph). They taught me the G&S style and I helped them find ways to land a laugh or get a hand while playing to an exclusively American audience, some of whom were seeing their very first Gilbert and Sullivan production."
Pappas continues, "For me, this blending of tradition and invention, this idea of continuity refreshed, is the most splendid and moving way to approach the classics. I feel as if I have one foot firmly planted in the present while celebrating and immersing myself in the past."
The Pittsburgh Public cast is led by Kenneth Garner (Sir Joseph Porter), Larry Daggett (Captain Corcoran), Pedro Porro (Ralph Rackstraw), Bill Nolte (Dick Deadeye), Daniel Krell (Bill Bobstay), Louis S. Valenzi (Bob Becket), Catrina Lennon (Josephine), Melanie Vaughan (Cousin Hebe), and Myrna Paris (Little Buttercup), and the ensemble includes Erin Annarella, Peter Couchman, Robert Frankenberry, Jamie Johns, Sarah Anne Lewis, Michael B. Minarik, Greg Roderick, Scott P. Sambuco, Laura Yen Solito and Jessica Wright as the First Lord's Sisters, His Cousins, His Aunts and Sailors. Musical director F. Wade Russo returns for his fourth Public production, leading the orchestra of Michael P. Clancy, John Hall, Alexis Koh, Suzanne K. Park, Gail M. Picha, and Glen Schneider. Dan DeLange is orchestrator.
Designers are Michael Schweikardt (scenic), David R. Zyla (costume), Kirk Bookman (lighting) and Zach Moore (sound). Official opening is Feb. 8. Tickets range $28-$50. Performances are at the O'Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, in downtown Pittsburgh. For information, call (412) 316-1600 or visit ppt.org.
— By Kenneth Jones