Pepperdine University presents the Gilbert and Sullivan classic ‘H.M.S Pinafore’

A scene from the Pepperdine Opera Program's "The Pirates of Penzance" is shown in 2018. Pepperdine's opera program is "one of the top undergraduate opera programs on the West Coast,” according to the school's Director of Opera Keith Colclough. Contributed Photo

Antics on the high seas with British admiralty in Victorian times, mistaken identity, clever songs filled with wordplay, and “topsy-turvy” fanciful absurdity are the features you’re sure to find in the works of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. Their theatrical partnership beginning in 1871 endures to this day with a production of one of their classics, “H.M.S. Pinafore,” that will be performed Feb. 23 and 25 at Smothers Theatre at Pepperdine University. 

If you plan on attending, know that on Friday, Feb. 24, the theater is dark so the performers can rest their voices. 

“It’s pretty standard with opera that you give singers a night off to rest,” explained Keith Colclough, associate professor of vocal studies and director of opera at Pepperdine. “They are really talented, really good singers.”

Colclough, who is also the director of the production, explained most of the cast are applied music majors with an emphasis in voice. Many of the performers are studying to be opera singers. 

“In this show we also have a lot of musical theater majors,” he said. 

The young talents range in age from 18 to 24. The cast has been rehearsing since the fall. 

“The show is all about rank, social status, disparities of ranks, and good manners”, said Colclough, who goes to say the plot features a crew of “comedically polite and tidy” sailors, and “it’s very silly.”

The plot starts out simply: The captain’s daughter and one of the sailors are in love, but she is betrothed to the Lord Admiral of the Navy. Then in classic Gilbert and Sullivan style “there’s a mistaken identity, a swap that happened at birth, and disarray, but it has a happy ending, and it’s a delightful libretto,” according to Colclough.

Joshua Nash, a Pepperdine junior, is cast as the romantic lead, sailor Ralph Rackstraw, “an able seaman, low in rank, but high in leadership.” 

“The whole premise of the show is that love levels all ranks.” The 20-year old student from Dallas said. “It’s very fun and playful. My character has a lot of high notes.” 

Nash, a vocal performance major, admitted to a lot of warming up and drills to sing his high tenor role. 

“Everybody’s super talented especially in the ensemble. The music is amazing,” he said, speaking about the cast of 20. “We’re excited to put the show on for our school and local community.” 

Brittany Weinstock plays the female romantic lead, Josephine. The 22-year-old, also a music vocal performance major, was cast after auditioning with arias from the show. 

“We’ve had a blast rehearsing,” she said. “The music is really catchy and a lot of fun. It’s a classic story of a rich girl in love with a poor guy, so there’s that kind of trope. The language is very Victorian, very British with dry humor, but I think it’s really funny. 

“It’s a simple innocent story, but nice because it shows how love can cross borders. Love can cross class lines. I think people like that classic story that’s been seen time and time again. The music is catchy and fun and it has beautiful moments as well. I think people like coming to enjoy a show to have fun and be light for a little bit.”

The addition of a 16-member orchestra of students playing the score by composer Arthur Sullivan will add to the romantic staging of “H.M.S. Pinafore” along with a gorgeous set and period costumes.

“It’s a comedy, but it does a good job at pointing out the arbitrary nature of a lot of our social status and hierarchy and it is classic British humor style,” Colclough said. “It has a very light and polite veneer, but it’s actually pretty biting in its criticism at times when you look at what they’re getting at. It’s a great show.”

The director said the production is one that will showcase the talent of a great cast and opera program.

“I think we’ve developed into one of the top undergraduate opera programs on the West Coast,” Colclough said. “The department just won first place in an opera scenes competition for the National Opera Association. Our program is small, but we do great work. We have high production values too thanks to the Flora L. Thornton endowment gifted to us. We’ve got a great team and great students and try to do fun works to give something back to the community as well as teach our students.”

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