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Before I go into my thoughts on the Delaware Valley Opera’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore,” let me offer a very bold disclaimer here: I’m no aficionado when it comes to the world of theater. In fact, I’m a total newbie, and even that’s generous.
It’s fitting that I would start with a household name production by Gilbert and Sullivan. Something could be said for my inexperience here—my viewpoint is untainted by previous renditions of this classic show. From that vantage point, I found the Delaware Valley Opera’s (DVO) production of “H.M.S Pinafore” to be lighthearted, spirited and just the right amount of comical.
I did not expect that so many members of the cast would be true masters of their craft. I was notably impressed by Little Buttercup, played by Mary Burkart. It wasn’t the obvious talents she possesess—stunning vocal ability and impressive knack for theatrics, for instance—that most impressed me. It was her stage presence. Burkart looked so comfortable that you would have thought she were in her own bedroom, wearing her favorite PJs and singing into a hairbrush microphone. Burkart’s years of experience in the performing arts shined through stronger than her blazing affection for Seán Kroll’s Captain Corcoran, who also put on a stunning performance. I laughed genuinely—from-the-heart kind of laughs—countless times throughout the production. The moment he uttered exasperatingly, “A common sailor?!” got me good. It got the audience too—everyone was reeling. Kroll showed an incredible ability to balance his character into equal parts lighthearted when appropriate, and serious when necessary. Kroll appears as a truly talented and dedicated actor, who’s personality shines brighter than the gold trim on his captain’s uniform.
Speaking of dedication, let’s discuss Dick Deadeye, played by Adam Cioffari. The man deserves an award just for maintaining that awful grimace. Cioffiari succeeded in his performance—in a grotesque, nightmarish sort of way, sure, but commendable no less.
Commendable performances were given by the entire cast, but Bill Bobstay, played by John Tobey Jr., deserves a standing ovation. I was enthralled by how perfectly he embodied the old-timey sailor stereotype, right down to the jolly laugh and animated movements. After Tobey graduates from Mansfield University I hope he will continue to explore his talents.
Talent is sure to take other young cast members places, most notably Elise Mark, who played the lead role of Josephine. Some of us are born with the gift of song; this woman was graced with the pipes of a goddess. She exuded emotion, all the while gliding around the stage in layers of petticoats—no small feat for sure. Her performance reminded me of my tap-dancing instructor’s favorite phrase, “dance with your heart, not your feet.” Mark gave her whole heart to this performance.
Costume-wise, I was dually impressed by the historical accuracy of the ensemble’s pieces. Josephine’s gave me “Gibson girl” vibes, which was right on trend with the era of the production. All the fair ladies glided around in dresses that would have been worn in the Victorian era. Attention to details set apart what’s good from what’s great.
What’s great was the chemistry between Josephine and her counterpart Ralph Rackstraw, played by Cole Tornberg. Mark’s sing-songy soprano vocals blended seamlessly with Tornberg’s elevated tenor notes to make a powerful, resounding duet. The way the pair gazed into each other’s eyes was nothing short of passionate.
Tornberg impressed me in many ways. In the token “hot-guy” role, I think a lot of actors would have taken the easy route by letting their looks carry their performance. Tornberg assumed his role with an intensity that proved him as a performer. The level of emotion that poured out of him as he professed both his love for Josephine, and his discontent at being a lowly sailer, was moving to say the least. And all the while, he assumed a stance as strong as his jawline. The casting for this opera was accurate and mindful, and Tornberg’s role as Ralph is clear evidence of that.
After the velvety curtain closed, and the crowds began to shuffle toward the exits, I realized that I felt a little different than when I had arrived. I felt lighter, a little more cultured, as if I had a breath of fresh air and a new enthusiasm for theater. I credit that euphoric feeling to the talented orchestra for uttering such cheery, waltzy tunes, and to the cast, who poured so much of themselves onto the stage for the enjoyment of others—a beautiful endeavor, in my opinion. A metaphorical bouquet of roses goes out to every member of who aided in the production of H.M.S Pinafore, it was a memorable, and quite enjoyable experience for a theater novice such as myself.
The Delaware Valley Opera (DVO) is presenting the comic opera “H.M.S. Pinafore” on Saturday and Sunday, August 24 and 25 at the Tusten Theater. Tickets cost $20 and can be ordered by calling 845/887-3083 or through the DVO’s website: www.delawarevalleyopera.com.