Hilarity Heats Up The Harmony In MSMT’s ‘HMS Pinafore’

Pop-Art inspiration highlights the humor In Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan‘s first big hit, running July 11-29

Allentown, Pa (June 30, 2012) – When Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore” opens July 11 at Muhlenberg College, aficionados will see the 19th century operetta they know and love, says director James Peck. But they will also see the bright colors and bold lines of the Pop Art era of Warhol and Rauschenberg, from which the production draws inspiration.

“The show will appeal to traditionalists and satisfy them. It’s a faithful production,” Peck says. “But it will also definitely win new fans. It’s a 134-year-old Victorian show filled with comedic and melodious moments, and we’re color-washing it—making it Technicolor.”

Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre, now in its 32nd season, presents “HMS Pinafore” July 11-29, in the Baker Theatre. Peck, chair of the Theatre & Dance Department, will direct the show; Ed Bara and Muhlenberg alumna AlexJo Natale will provide musical direction and choreography, respectively.

“What makes ‘Pinafore’ so unique and special is the pure humor rubbing up against some of the most beautiful music,” Peck says. “It’s simultaneously absurd and beautifully serious.”

Librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan’s first big hit, “HMS Pinafore” is full of hijinks and silliness, as well as the pair’s trademark wit, satire, and melodic songs. Ralph Rackstraw, a sailor aboard the HMS Pinafore and “the smartest lad in the fleet,” is in love with the ship captain’s daughter, Josephine — but her father has a more sophisticated suitor in mind: The Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B, First Lord of the Admiralty.

Will true love prevail? Peck says they audience will just have to attend to find out. “Though let’s be honest,” he says. “They can probably guess.”

“Pinafore” was first produced in 1878 at the Opera Comique inLondon, where it ran for 571 performances —the second-longest running operetta up to that time. Some of the show’s best-known songs include “I’m Called Little Buttercup” and “A British Tar.”

“In fact,” Peck says, “the start of American musical theatre owes a lot to this show. It became an international sensation — and when it crossed over to theUnited States, it helped set the stage for the form of the American musical.”

Peck has directed the show before, many years ago. “Actually it was the third play I ever directed,” he says. “So I was so young; I was going by instinct. Now I have a tool bag, tricks of the trade, 25 more years of experience, and of course a great cast.”

Peck brings a Pop Art sensibility to this classic musical theatre masterpiece by playing with the typical production design to create something novel but still rooted in history.

“Imagine what Andy Warhol or Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns might have done with ‘Pinafore,’ and that’s where we’re headed,” Peck says. “The show takes place on a warship painted to look like the Union Jack in bright reds and aqua blues. It feels like a toy boat.”

MSMT’s second production of the season reaches new technicolor heights with the help of faculty members and Muhlenberg alumni. Peck and Barra are joined by faculty member and professional actor Troy Dwyer as the dialect designer for the show. Also joining the production are Muhlenberg alumni Lauren Curnow ’96 as Little Buttercup and Matthew Allar ’00 as the scenic designer.

Allar and costume designer Kevin Thacker look to bring a sense of flourish to the show — reflective of the flourish of the music and lyrics — by brightening the costumes and set.

“We are embracing the late 19th century Victoriana setting, but in a pop contemporary way,” Allar says. “I am working to update the Victorian aesthetic typically seen in ‘HMS Pinafore’ with heightened shape and color to reflect the heightened music.”

Similarly, Dwyer, is crafting dialects not commonly used for “Pinafore” — but which he says are more truthful to the setting of the show. The characters are of British descent, but from the coast, resulting in more of a Hampshire and Portsmith accent which Dwyer says sounds “more pirate-like” than the English Cockney accent usually used

“This show takes a bold, colorful, vivid approach to the world of ‘Pinafore,'” Dwyer says, “but with no sacrifice of human reality, thanks to Jim. There are complete, whole characters — performing absurd humor.”

The accents Dwyer is designing signify more than a truthful locale, they also signify status and class within the world of the play. The more “pirate-like” the accent gets, the lower the class of the character speaking.  All of this intense focus on dialect specificity works to solidify Peck’s creation of absurdity still rooted in reality. Although Peck draws from a pop contemporary style, he still hopes to get at some important themes of class and true love. The show is anchored (pun intended) by these realistic themes.

“The theme of war between classes in this opera is as relevant today as it was when the show was written,” says actress Lauren Curnow, who plays Little Buttercup. “What’s great with this piece is that Gilbert and Sullivan composed text and music to complement each character’s absurd, but very serious, take on where the class lines should be drawn.”

“HMS Pinafore” plays July 11-29, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., in the Dorothy H. Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance.

For the first four performances, July 11-14, tickets are $32 regular admission; seniors are $28; students and children are $18. For shows beginning July 15, tickets are $38 regular admission; seniors, $35; students and children, $20.

Sundays are Family Matinee day; tickets for children ages 5-18 are just $10 when purchased with a full-price or senior ticket. (Limit two discounted tickets per full-price ticket.) Group discounts are available for groups of 15 or more.

Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or www.muhlenberg.edu/SMT.

Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre Auditions

Auditions for MSMT 2012 season, including ‘H.M.S. Pinafore,’ Lehigh Valley premiere of ‘Hairspray,’ will be held Feb. 19 and 21 Technical positions and high school internships also available

Allentown, Pa. (Jan. 17, 2012) — Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre will hold open auditions for performers ages 16 and up on Feb. 19 and 21. Performers will be cast for the season’s mainstage productions: the Lehigh Valley premiere of “Hairspray,” performing June 13 – July 1, and Gilbert and Sullivan‘s “H.M.S. Pinafore,” performing July 11-29.

The following audition details can also be found online, at www.muhlenberg.edu/summermusictheatre.

Vocal auditions will be held Sunday, Feb. 19, from 2 to 6 and 7 to 11 p.m., and Tuesday, Feb. 21, from 6 to 11 p.m. Auditions will be held in the Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts, on the Muhlenberg College campus. Vocal audition appointments are three minutes.

Dance auditions will be held Sunday, Feb. 19, from 6 to 10 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 21, from 6 to 8 p.m., in the Dance Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance. Dance auditions will take about half an hour. Auditioners will be taught a short dance sequence, which they will then perform. No preparation is required.

All auditioners must register in advance and schedule an audition. All auditioners must sign up for both vocal and dance auditions. Auditioners should send an e-mail to boxoffice@muhlenberg.edu before Friday, Feb. 17, indicating available dates and times within the scheduled audition, and providing a mobile phone number where the auditioner can be reached with questions.

Those without access to e-mail should call the Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance office at 484-664-3087, during regular office hours before Thursday, Feb. 16. Voice messages should contain all of the above information.

All auditioners will be assigned a time for both a dance audition and a vocal audition, and should plan to dance and sing, even if they concentrate in just one area. It is possible for a performer to be cast based on a strong audition in just singing or just dance; however all performers in both shows will sing and dance.

The directors are looking for an ethnically diverse cast, including a wide range of ages and types, and community members are strongly encouraged to audition.

Performers may audition for either show, or for both shows, but will not be cast in more than one.

Auditioners for both shows should prepare a memorized vocal selection of 16 to 32 bars. Those wishing to be considered for a lead role in “Hairspray” should sing an up-tempo song that shows off belt voice (for women) or upper register (for men). Those wishing to be considered for a lead in “H.M.S. Pinafore” should sing any song that shows off range, size of voice, projection, and character.

To be considered for lead roles in both shows, auditioners should prepare two audition selections. To be considered for just the chorus of either or both shows, auditioners may prepare just one selection.

An accompanist will be provided for the vocal audition. You must bring sheet music in the key in which you would like to sing, with your 16- to 32-bar selection indicated and any cuts clearly noted. Please no accompaniment tapes or a cappella auditions.

Callback auditions will be held March 15-18, and will include acting auditions, reading from the script. Details will be provided as necessary, but auditioners should hold the dates if possible.

Non-performing opportunities are available for technicians and costumers. Carpenters, electricians, props technicians, light board and sound board operators, and stage crew are needed for productions. Costumers, first hand, stitchers, and wardrobe running crew are needed in the costume shop.

High school stage management internships are available for those who will be at least 16 years old by the time they begin working for MSMT. Interns work alongside college students and professionals from the College, and guest artists from New York, learning valuable skills that they can take back to their high school programs. Interns receive a $400 stipend for the summer.

The application deadline for technicians, costumers, and administrative personnel is March 1. Applications can be found online at www.muhlenberg.edu/summermusictheatre. Completed applications can be sent to boxoffice@muhlenberg.edu.