ELLSWORTH — One warm, bright spot o’ fun in the midst of 40 years of dreary Februaries has been the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Maine’s annual operetta. This years’ production of G&S’s first big hit, “HMS Pinafore,” is no exception.
There are colorful characters, catchy tunes, clever lyrics. What’s not to love?
And this year, there was even more to love, with a new opening act, featuring the “Pinafore” cast. Traditionally, because Pinafore is relatively short, the operetta is paired with another even shorter G&S piece, “Trial by Jury.” But this year, the troupe decided to try something new.
The “argument” here is a cast mutiny in which the performers refuse to do “Trial,” saying it’s a bore, which is rather true. Instead, they cherry-pick songs and characters from other shows to create a whole new story, poking fun at themselves and operettas in general.
This turns out to be a hoot, especially a mash-up of patter songs with John Cunningham, Roland Dube and Casey Gaither. Aiden Pasha and David Porter are also delightfully dithery as Sirs Gilbert and Sullivan, respectively.
This little warm-up act deftly put the Sunday afternoon audience in the mood for a visit to the 19th-century Royal Navy and a typically topsy-turvy G&S plot.
Deborah Hangge is typically terrific as Buttercup, the good-hearted peddler with a terrible secret. It’s such fun to watch Hangge perform, as she throws her whole body and soul into her roles. She has lost some power in the upper ranges of her voice, but her expressions say everything. Dube, who plays the HMS Pinafore’s snobbish Capt. Corcoran, is another full-on performer, and after decades of duets, the two of them together are a well-oiled entertainment machine. But the big powerhouse of a performer is, as ever, Maurice Joseph Marshall, who simply kills it as the pompous ass, Sir Joseph Porter, unwanted suitor to the captain’s daughter Josephine. Marshall’s booming baritone hasn’t lost a single decibel over the years. His acting, which started out first rate, just gets better.
As the ingénue Josephine, Eileen York is a delicious paradox with a stature and soprano built to sing Wagner and a speaking voice like Betty Boop. Peter Miller, who has for 20 years been performing wonders as a set designer for local productions — including this one—makes his onstage debut here as Josephine’s true love, Ralph Rackstraw.
Demelza Ramirez is adorable as a diminutive busybody, but her dialogue was a bit hard to hear. Sandi Blanchette’s direction was lively and a bit quirky, with an homage to the “Twin Peaks” Log Lady.
Linda Grindle’s costumes are colorful, the chorus fulsome, and Scott Cleveland’s orchestra tuneful, with special kudos to percussionist Lynette Woods and flutist Deirdre McArdle.
My advice for the winter doldrums is to take a break from February and attend a performance of “HMS Pinafore” which continues on Friday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, Feb.17 and 18, at 3 p.m. For tickets and information, call 667-9500.