by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Co-Adapted by Sean Graney, Andra Velis Simon and Matt Kahler
Directed by Sean Graney
Co-Directed by Thrisa Hodits
Music Directed by Andra Velis Simon
With Dana Omar (Ralphina), Emily Casey (Captain Cat Coran / Sail’re Bobbi), Christine Stulik (Admiral Dame Jo-Anne Porter / Sail’ress Tiffni), Erin O’Shea (Sail’ress Billi), Kate Carson-Groner (Dot Dead-Eye/Sail’ress Candi), Doug Pawlik (Joseph), Matt Kahler (Li’l Buttercup/Porterman Matt), Erik Schroeder (Cousin Heebies), Shawn Pfautsch (Porterman Kev’n)
The story is typical Gilbert and Sullivan silliness, with some gender inversions here or there. Essentially, Joseph (Doug Pawlik), son of the captain, Cat Coran (Emily Casey), is in love with Ralphina (Dana Omar), but his domineering mother, to whom he is dedicated and obedient, wants him to marry Admiral Dame Jo-Anne Porter (Christine Stulik). Oh, the travails that ensue! But, somehow, can you believe it, things manage to turn out all right.
The Hypocrites, a Chicago-based company that specializes, in part of its repertoire, in wackified versions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas but done with capable musicality, was in town a few seasons ago with a very fun and satisfying production of The Pirates of Penzance and again last year for a short run of a production of The Mikado, which unfortunately I missed.
The current production of Pinafore is equally wacky to their Penzance, but even tighter and more musically satisfying.
Set in the open space of the Oberon, the show is, from the outset, literally immersed in the audience. The cast notes, from the start, that they may come and tap you on the shoulder because they need to get up on top of where you’re sitting. We actually had someone climb up on our table. It was fine, it was fun, part of a rollicking good time.
The actual play is anticipated by the cast throwing little dolls around the audience and encouraging the audience to throw them back and around. It serves to get everyone energized and set in a frame of mind for interactive theater.
They also got the crowd roused at the outset with their own very good renditions of the Talking Heads classic Psychokiller and the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams.
It all worked quite well. Except for a few stretches during the relatively short (80 minutes) production, things were hopping. And when the energy flagged, the cast knew pretty well how to pump things up again.
All of the great G&S Pinafore chestnuts do very well with The Hypocrites’ somewhat morphed variations. The great opener We Sail The Ocean Blue takes off with wonderful orchestrations of instruments entirely played by the actors.
There are a lot of great voices and some very funny performances in this show.
In his gender-adapted version – many of the roles in the show are equally re-gendered, a nice twist on the original – Matt Kahler, in a pink get-up framing his beard, belts it out beautifully for I’m Called Little Buttercup. In a kind of Andrews Sisters adaptation, the Sail’resses do a great line-up number.
All kinds of one-liners abound. When searching for a definition of the poop (deck), it is identified as to the rear – fifth-grade scatological humor, but still funny.
Jumping up on some table or other, Emily Casey (Captain Cat Coran), who offers fine support throughout, gives a great rendition of the I Am The Captain of the Pinafore. She adeptly carries the boat, so to speak, throughout.
Dana Omar (Ralphina) has a wonderful soprano, right out of G&S central casting, and she uses it to the hilt. When she and Joseph (Doug Pawlik), a lovely tenor, get going, it’s sweet and wonderful.
Other performances are notable.
As Admiral Dame Jo-Anne Porter, Christine Stulik make a very strong impression, with forceful acting and convincing singing, especially with I Am The Monarch of the Sea, done fast, then very fast, with a few funny meta comments about the featured patter song.
When the entire chorus gets together, it is also very satisfying and well done.
In fact, all the music is done very well, with considerable poise and structure. Given the generally rambunctious nature of the production, one would expect a more improvisational quality to the music and dancing. Not so – the music is very clearly and well performed (as is the dancing) – and though lots of the patter and some of the lyrics get changed, the approach preserves the core of the standard Gilbert and Sullivan tunes while spicing them up nicely.
Musically, however, what sets these Hypocrites’ productions apart is the instrumentation, which is broad and various. Fiddle, guitars, mandolin, ukelee, spoons, clarinet, flute, accordion, banjo abound throughout, all nicely played, creating a highly effective orchestral accompaniment.
Near the end, the rock returns with the Bruno Mars number Marry You, and the evening winds up with the Styx hit Come Sail Away, nicely reverberating contemporary touches.
This immersive theater is energetic, offbeat, informal in its casual relation to the audience, but very well done overall, and a delight.