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Stage Review: Savoyards stage another witty, fast-paced G&S classic -- 'Pinafore'

Friday, March 17, 2000

By John Hayes Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It's an acquired taste, like a sophisticated creme fraiche prepared by a master sous chef who studied for years to get the chemistry and the timing just right. And whether you think it's magnifique or reeks like sour milk, you're completely justified in coming to your own conclusion.



Where: Andrew Carnegie Free Library, 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $6-$15. 412-734-8476


Gilbert and Sullivan aren't everyone's cup of Earl Grey, yet their comic operettas from more than a century ago have survived while entire theater forms have come and gone. But if you're going to see it, see it done well by a company that has a reputation for producing oh-so-proper productions of those perfectly respectable classics.

Pittsburgh Savoyards doesn't stray beyond the intentions of the creators of "H.M.S. Pinafore." She's still a proud vessel manned by exaggerated caricatures snipped from 19th-century comic novels. The story? Never mind the why and wherefore, it's Gilbert and Sullivan, so of course a chummy group of men with manners is kept in line by a benevolent tyrant, a romantic conflict is resolved by a flagrant lapse in logic and everyone is happy when the curtain falls. The wordplay is all terribly witty, the diction is precise, the songs and music are clean and fast-paced and the entire show is G-rated from a time when such warning labels weren't necessary.

With a handful of very good principals and a competent supporting cast, director James Critchfield tells the old story with class and distinction. Stephen Ray draws laughs as the pompous, stiff-lipped blunderbuss Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty. Then as now, people love to see the rich and powerful showing the depths of their stupidity, and Ray steals scenes with his character's classic confusion.

Rick Duffy's powerful voice carries some of the best songs and he plays a very appropriate Capt. Corcoran. He's at his best interacting with his men and crooning "Fair Moon, To Thee I Sing" and the beautiful "Never Mind the Why and Wherefore" with Ray and Christy Marley, who shines as the captain's romantically entangled daughter. She works well with Jeff Gross as the able seaman who has caught her fancy, and Ginger Auld swaggers as the busybody Little Buttercup.

A few standout performances in smaller roles give this performance of the intentionally shallow operetta a sense of the company's depth and solidity. John Shulick plays a menacing Dick Deadeye and Dawn Marie Liston impresses as Cousin Hebe. A highlight is the wonderful a cappella harmony shared by Gross, Jack Mostow and Todd Farwell on "A British Tar."

Guy Russo leads the orchestra, which augments the stage action with occasional bursts of musical humor. The dictates of David Vinski's choreography aren't always followed by the able seamen, but the missteps get lost among the parade of bustles, bows, uniforms and the sweet faces of children who flesh out this lively Victorian classic.

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