"H.M.S. Pinafore": Adventure on the high seas

Central Coast Gilbert and Sullivan presents classic musical at Cuesta's Cultural and Performing Arts Center

slinn@thetribunenews.comJune 12, 2013 

When it comes to Gilbert and Sullivan, Cuesta College music instructor Marcy Irving is an expert.

“She knows all the music. She knows all the dialogue. She knows all the blocking,” explained Cassandra Tarantino, director of Cuesta College’s North County Choir. “She has a complete vision of each play, intact.”

“They’ve always made me happy,” said Irving, who teamed up with Tarantino to form the new theater company Central Coast Gilbert and Sullivan. Now she’s eager to share that happiness with others.

Central Coast Gilbert and Sullivan embarks on its maiden voyage this weekend with “H.M.S. Pinafore; or, The Lass That Loved a Sailor,” a nautical tale of adventure, romance and mistaken identities on the high seas. The opera runs Saturday and Sunday at Cuesta College’s Cultural and Performing Arts Center.

Irving can trace her fascination with the works of librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan — the Victorian-era songsmiths who authored “The Mikado,” “The Pirates of Penzance” and 12 more comic operas — to the time her parents took her to see a production of “H.M.S. Pinafore” at age 3.

“It just made a huge impression on me,” she said, one that stayed with her through college.

“It’s kind of not cool to be a music major and like Gilbert and Sullivan,” admitted Irving, who holds vocal performance degrees from Cal State Northridge and University of Nevada, Reno. “I had to stick to my guns.”

At age 24, Irving joined Opera a la Carte, a Pasadena-based theater company dedicated to the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. She spent seven blissful seasons with the group.

“I always thought … ‘Maybe someday I’ll start my own Gilbert and Sullivan company,’ ” Irving recalled. “It was always in the back of my mind, but it didn’t seem possible.”

One night in May 2012, she shared her ambition with Tarantinto, who urged Irving to take the plunge.

“The next morning I check my email and there it is — boom — ‘Central Coast Gilbert and Sullivan, founded by Marcy Irving and Cassie Tarantino,’ ” Tarantino recalled.

Central Coast Gilbert and Sullivan’s first outing is one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular works. “H.M.S. Pinafore,” which debuted in London in 1878, features the kind of topsy-turvy storyline the theatrical team made famous.

Sailor Ralph Rackstraw (Doug Hales), “the smartest lad in all the fleet,” is in love with the daughter of Captain Corcoran (Steve Cohen), commander of the British warship H.M.S. Pinafore.

Unfortunately, as the Boatswain (Gregg Haueter) and Deadeye Dick (Scott Chapman) warn him, Ralph’s lowly social status means he can never woo Josephine (Sarah Jackson). Her father hopes to marry her to the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Joseph Porter (Rouvaishyana), who’s in charge of the Royal Navy. Meanwhile, dockside vendor Little Buttercup (Jayne Cohen), the “rosiest, roundest, and reddest beauty in all Spithead,” harbors a dark secret under her “gay and frivolous exterior” that may change everything.

Both a touching love story and a satirical send-up of the British class system, “H.M.S. Pinafore” is representative of many of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works, Irving said.

“They’re really multifaceted,” she said. “They have moments of seriousness where it’s very tender and there are moments that are just laugh-out-loud funny.”

Tarantino agreed. “This is the kind of humor Monty Python built their empire on,” she said.

According to Tarantino, songs such as “A British Tar,” “He is an Englishman,” “I’m Called Little Buttercup” and “When I Was a Lad” demonstrate a mastery that is both charming and challenging.

“This music is not easy,” she said, but the cast and 17-member orchestra are up to the challenge. “The integrity that every single person is bringing to this is 100 percent. There’s not one slacker.”

The same goes for the crew behind “H.M.S. Pinafore,” which includes music director Jennifer Martin, set designer Mark Plater, lighting designer Natalie Merriman and costume designer Cynthia Vest. Irving is serving as stage director, while Tarantino is chorus master.

“The team is just incredible,” Irving said. “They’re just giving enormous amounts of time and energy. It’s been really touching to me.”

In the future, Central Coast Gilbert and Sullivan plans to produce one opera every year, with the hope of eventually presenting a weekend-long repertory festival featuring two or three operas.

“This brings back a (way) for our community to have a place to sing in the summer,” Tarantino said. “What’s more fun than singing beautiful music on stage for an opera?”

IF YOU GO

"H.M.S. Pinafore"
7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Cultural and Performing Arts Center, Cuesta College
$15, $12 for students and seniors
546-3936, www.cpactickets.cuesta.edu

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Stay updated by following @shelikestowatch on Twitter.

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