HMS Pinafore Sails into the Outer Banks

New York Theater Comes to the Outer Banks
Sir Joseph, in the Admiral's hat, and Cousin Bebe in the purple dress. A plot twist at the end brings Sir Joseph and Cousin Bebe together romantically.
Sir Joseph, in the Admiral’s hat, and Cousin Bebe in the purple dress. A plot twist at the end brings Sir Joseph and Cousin Bebe together romantically.

Two years ago the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players (NYGSP) brought the Pirates of Penzance to the Outer Banks. On Sunday evening they were back at First Flight High School, but this time with HMS Pinafore.

One thing is for sure—two year has not diminished the skill or professionalism of the NYGSP. It was a wonderful evening of theater, on par with anything anywhere.

Like most Gilbert and Sullivan plays, the plot is a bit thin, the final twist that brings everything together absurd, but the reason these plays or operettas have survived for 140 years is because of the music and the lyrics.

Admittedly some of the lyrics are pretty thin, love ballads, but even when the lyrics don’t have the power of their political commentary, the music is exquisite.

But it is the political commentary in the lyrics that has made plays like HMS Pinafore timeless.

There is Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty, who polished door knobs so well at his first job the “…now I am the ruler of the Queen’s Navee…” By his own admission, the only ship he has ever been in is a partnership.

The Love Story

As he explains to the captain of the Pinafore, in spite of his exalted status, the British sailor is the equal of any man—giving hope to Able Seaman Real Rackstraw, who is in love with the Josephine, the daughter of the the Pinafore’s captain.

She loves him, but he is beneath her station. They finally admit their love for one another, much to the chagrin of Sir Joseph Porter who had hoped to marry her.

The romantic twists and turns of the play are really just a vehicle for Gilbert and Sullivan to skewer 19th century society and politics. And what makes their plays so remarkable is how relevant the themes are to 21st century America.

The Songs

Beyond the political satire, HMS Pinafore may hold the record for the most well-known songs in one performance. The is the play that gave us When I Was a Lad, Sir Joseph’s song about polishing door knobs and becoming the ruler of the Queen’s Navy.

This is where Now Give Three Cheers—“Give three cheers and three cheers more for the Captain of the Pinafore…” first appeared. And I’m Called Little Buttercup. “They call me sweet Buttercup, Dear little Buttercup, Tho’ I could never tell why…”

Perhaps the best known of them all is He Is an English Man. Probably intended originally as a way to poke fun at spate of patriotic hymns and songs, the tune was quickly adapted as a point of pride by the British public.

The play was brought to the Outer Banks by the Don and Catharine Bryan Cultural Art Series. This was the last of their shows until the fall, but what a way to go out for the season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *