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'Pinafore' sails smoothly


The Young Victorian Theatre Company's production of "HMS Pinafore" easily could have been shipwrecked by the lead tenor's laryngitis last weekend, but some fast cast changes resulted in remarkably smooth sailing at Bryn Mawr's Centennial Hall.

In a flurry of events suitable for the outrageous plotting of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, it just so happened that tenor James Katchko, cast as the Able Seaman Ralph Rackstraw, was not feeling able enough to perform Saturday night. So music director and conductor J. Ernest Green was pulled from his pit and pressed into service as Ralph. Suddenly drafted to lead the 25-member orchestra was local conductor Edward Polochick, who waved his baton as if he'd been planning this for weeks rather than hours.

The best was yet to come, because as any G&S; fan can tell you, much of the fun of seeing their operettas is relishing how Victorian-era references are updated, so we were primed for digs about Mr. Green's Ralph Rackstraw being nothing but "a common conductor," er, sailor in the Queen's navy.

Although Mr. Green had some difficulty negotiating high passages and smiled at his own inability to get his feet to cooperate with the choreography, he was a wonderfully quick study. Still, he'd occasionally look wistfully down toward the orchestra pit and, at the curtain call, he seemed to be calling out to Mr. Polochick for his old job back. The audience loved every minute of it, acknowledging him with long applause and affectionate shouts of "Ernie!"

No small part of the pleasure was in drawing the connection between the real-life switch in casting and the operetta's switched-in-the-cradle story.

Low-ranked Ralph wrongly assumes that he lacks high enough birth and so will never have more than a berth on this ship. Serving under Captain Corcoran (Gary Leard), poor Ralph pines away for the Captain's daughter, Josephine (Margaret Genovese). She, alas, is in tended for the Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty (Steven Goodman), who is every bit as pompous as his title.

Ms. Genovese is especially good as the Victorian lass who loves one man but is slated to marry another. With her long black hair and flowing white dress, she is the picture of melancholy as she sighs "How my heart beats." In fact, she sighs it so often that one is tempted to ask if there is a cardiologist on board.

Other standouts are Mr. Goodman as the buffoonish Sir Joseph, who makes his entrance wearing a full uniform and an orange life preserver, and Kathryn Arnold as Little Buttercup, who proves as full of voice as of provisions to sell the sailors.

Remaining performances by the Young Victorian Theatre Company of "HMS Pinafore" are at Bryn Mawr School on July 12, 13, 18, 19 and 20 at 8:15 p.m. For ticket information call 323-3077.

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