For the last 23 of its 43 years, the Young Victorian Theatre Company made its home each summer on the campus of Bryn Mawr in what was, at best, an adequate performance facility. It had a cramped, low-ceilinged stage, dry acoustics and no orchestra pit.
Getting evicted — Bryn Mawr needed the venue back — turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to the troupe, Baltimore's intrepid champion of the Gilbert and Sullivan canon.
Relocated to another tony institution, Young Vic now enjoys a very appealing space, which it is breaking in with a buoyant production of “H.M.S. Pinafore.”
The Sinex Theater in the Macfarlane Arts Center at Roland Park Country School provides a proper stage, one that easily handles a solid, modestly handsome set from Milwaukee's Skylight Music Theatre (by veteran opera designer Peter Dean Beck). The acoustical situation is a huge improvement, allowing for warmth and resonance. Stadium seating means great sight lines.
(UPDATE 7/22: I should have mentioned the addition of supertitles, another plus for audiences in this new location.)
And there is even a real, if compact, orchestra pit. To accommodate the ensemble of about two-dozen musicians, some players have been seated behind the conductor, facing the stage. Unorthodox, but it works.
Most of this “Pinafore” works, too. The nicely costumed cast is capable of delivering Sullivan's ever-infectious score with vigor and sailing confidently through the comic plot.
Peter Tomaszewski gives a particularly vibrant performance as the Pinafore's captain. His warm, ample baritone fills the hall easily and, as was the case when he performed with Young Vic last year, he savors Gilbert's text fully. Tomaszewski's elegant account of “Fair Moon to Thee I Sing” at the top of Act 2 is a highlight.
So is the subsequent duet, “Things Are Seldom What They Seem,” sung with powerhouse mezzo Jenni Bank as Buttercup, the bumboat vendor with a dark secret. (It's extra fun hearing Bank, a singer of true Verdian force, in this role, since Buttercup is Gilbert's parody of the baby-swapping gypsy in Verdi's “Il Trovatore.”)
Logan Rucker makes a hearty Ralph Rackstraw, the sailor of lowly station who loves Josephine, the captain's daughter. The tenor's voice could use more body, but the delivery is vivid, the phrasing stylish. Gabrielle DeMers, as Josephine, uses her bright soprano to charming effect.
As Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty, Colin Adams-Toomey looks as if he reached that exalted post after first serving in Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks. His singing voice is not particularly distinctive, nor rhythmically tight, but he's got abundant spark.
Andrew Adelsberger is an effective Dick Deadeye (save for the awful wig). Jonathan Wagstaff shines as the boatswain's mate, bringing a crisp baritone and authentic style to the assignment.
Chorus and orchestra are generally firm; both gain greatly from the acoustical environment. Conductor Phillip Collister may not always hold everything together, but he knows how to make Sullivan's indelible music go.
Timing in the production, directed by James Harp, is mostly smooth, the physical comedy nimble and often clever. Having some of the sailors appear shirtless when the curtain first rises might be viewed as atmospheric, but having them take their shirts off again several times during the performance, for no theatrically compelling reason, begins to look voyeuristic.
And, this being Young Vic, there are tamperings with the text. Local references in the rewritten lines get laughs, but don't exactly rise to the deftness of Gilbert. And poor little Buttercup. She has to produce a can of hair spray from her bag and refer to herself as a “hon.” Isn't that sort of shtick just a teeny bit tired?