Ethington Theatre Season Concludes With a Spirited ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’

April 15, 2013 / by / 0 Comment

Review by Doug Carroll
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau 

The Gilbert and Sullivan classic “H.M.S. Pinafore” has held up pretty well for 135 years, and it’s easy to see why. 

The musical works on a number of levels, starting with its whimsical title, which applies the name for a girl’s apron (a pinafore) to a naval warship. The dialogue is at once funny and witty — what you’d expect from an English dramatist. And although its first order of business is your entertainment, “Pinafore” sneaks in a running commentary about social class and how it can govern human behavior, even in matters of the heart. 

Josephine, the captain's daughter, and Ralph, a sailor, are socially mismatched lovebirds in the Gilbert and Sullivan musical "H.M.S. Pinafore."

The Ethington Theatre Series production, which opened Friday night on the Grand Canyon University campus, proves a worthy year-end successor to “The Boy Friend” from last April. Under the direction of Michael Kary, even the smaller roles are infused with personality and humor. “Pinafore” runs almost two hours, including a 10-minute intermission, but it’s so much fun that it doesn’t seem nearly so long. 

The story revolves around Ralph (played by Gavin Ely), a lowly sailor aboard the Pinafore, and Josephine (Natalie Shuler), the daughter of the ship’s captain. They’re smitten with each other, but Captain Corcoran (Anthony Cotoia) prefers that Josephine take up with the head of the Queen’s Navy, Sir Joseph (Adam Benavides). It’s a much more appropriate match, as the captain sees it. 

The self-impressed Sir Joseph, who never could adore a woman as much as he does the bogus medals crowding his chest, is stuffier than a bout of nasal congestion. He gets nowhere with Josephine. But she is conflicted about Ralph, torn “between love and reason,” wondering if it would be easier “were he more highly born or I more lowly.” A twist in the story resolves everything. 

A musical requires an exceptional singing voice from at least one of its lead characters to be a success, and “Pinafore” has two. “The Boy Friend” featured the beautiful soprano of Christina Cullers, and this production has winners in Ely and Shuler, both soloists in the Music Department’s Opera and Broadway Concert in February. Neither of the leads missed a cue from music director Mark Fearey, who played piano from behind a huge Union Jack flag at the rear of the stage. 

Natalie Shuler brings a beautiful singing voice to the role of Josephine in the Ethington Theatre production.

GCU audiences have come to expect something special from Benavides, who seems in “Pinafore” to be channeling Kary’s lovably pompous Major-General from “The Pirates of Penzance” (another popular Gilbert and Sullivan work, staged by GCU in the fall of 2010). “I know he is a great man, for he told me himself,” Ralph says of Sir Joseph, whom Benavides plays perfectly as a dignified dolt. 

In supporting roles, Arie Jones (as the scruffy Dick Deadeye, whose eye patch is the source of a stream of puns) and Brittany Thomas (Little Buttercup) are splendid, as are Brad Beamon and Cole Brackney as sailors. In fact, the entire motley crew of 14 seamen puts on a show within a show, executing Samantha Newhall’s choreography with remarkable precision and energizing the musical’s company numbers. 

Bill Symington’s split-level set evokes the grandeur of a naval ship, with its huge captain’s wheel and four guns, which are “fired” at the end. Nola Yergen has outdone herself with the costume design, incorporating the bright reds and deep blues of the Union Jack in a host of creative ways. Visually, this is perhaps the best show of 2012-13 — and that’s saying something in a year that had knockout scenic design for “Much Ado About Nothing” and “A Christmas Carol.” 

“H.M.S. Pinafore” is rightly considered one of the most influential works in musical theatre, and the Ethington version is a triple-threat delight of comedy, song and dance that should be seen before its run ends. Next weekend’s final performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, call the Ethington box office at 639.8880. 

Season announced for 2013-14 

The Ethington Theatre Series will open with a Shakespearean comedy for the second consecutive year when “Twelfth Night” kicks off the season on Aug. 30. 

The five productions for 2013-14 and their dates are: 

• “Twelfth Night,” comedy by William Shakespeare, Aug. 30-Sept. 1 and Sept. 6-8 

• “Ah, Wilderness!” comedy by Eugene O’Neill, Oct. 11-13 and 18-20 

• “Cosi Fan Tutte,” opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Nov. 22-24 and Nov. 29-Dec. 1 

• “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” fantasy by C.S. Lewis, Feb. 7-9 and 14-16 

• “Into the Woods,” musical by Stephen Sondheim, April 4-6 and 11-13 

For information about season tickets, contact the Ethington box office at 639.8880 or

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or

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