It may be wrong, but the usual impression of Victorian England comes in things like straight-backed chairs, uncomfortable shoes and collars starched so stiff they leave a crease around your neck.
That is but one thing that makes Gilbert and Sullivan's exquisite theatrical tweakings of the British upper crust so wonderfully delicious. The other elements, of course, are the remarkably tuneful music and the artists who take great pains to re-create the mood and manner of the G&S works.
Lamplighters Music Theatre has been firing the musical cannon for more than a half-century, scoring laugh-filled bull's-eyes with such shows as "H.M.S. Pinafore," currently touring the Bay Area.
The show opened in Walnut Creek and will make several stops before ending its run in Livermore on Aug. 21. "Pinafore" is one of the most hilariously charming pieces by the duo as it satirizes the powerful royal navy and the British national sport of class distinction while serving up an array of classic twits, beautiful and crafty maids and maidens, and earnest, humble sailors.
The show reminds us that rockbound silliness and stupidity in the halls of power and wealth continue to this day, although it's unlikely G&S had the least inkling they were writing for the ages.
With this production of "Pinafore," director Jane Erwin Hammett has painted an attractive picture of life aboard the good ship Pinafore, where high-level shaking-in-boots and
Captain Corcoran (Behrend Eilers) lives in fear of Sir Joseph Porter (F. Lawrence Ewing), "ruler of the queen's navy," as the song puts it. His daughter, Josephine (Lindsay Thompson Roush) also trembles in her tiny little shoe at the sight of Porter, but for a different reason -- she is more or less engaged to the highborn and highly placed twit.
She is enamored of the lowly British tar, Ralph Rackstraw (Michael Belle), a sailor aboard Daddy's ship. In the Britain of that day, such relationships are taboo. Of course, truth be told, the captain is kind of sweet on Little Buttercup (Sonia Gariaeff), who goes around the harbor from ship to ship, selling necessities, as well as a few luxuries, to the sailors.
That's pretty much taboo, too, but just sit back and chuckle; all is swell in the end.
And the journey is paved with delightfully performed music and dance, with most of the laughs, and a good portion of the sillier dancing, provided by Ewing.
He appears to have bones made partially from vulcanized rubber, because he moves unlike most of us. He also performs many of the comic songs, including "When I Was a Lad."
There is so much more music, directed by Brett Strader and performed by the great Lamplighters orchestra. And the tunes are well spread around among the captain, who sings "My Gallant Crew" with his gallant crew (a tune that includes the memorable lyric, "Never? No, Never. Never? Well, hardly ever"). Belle and Thompson Roush get a couple of great duets -- "Refrain, Audacious Tar," and "Farewell, My Own!" And Gariaeff delivers the charming "I'm Called Little Buttercup."
The chorus is put to excellent use and the whole package unfolds with humor and romance in costumes designed by Judy Jackson MacIlvaine on the refurbished classic set by Rooster Productions.
By Gilbert and Sullivan; presented by Lamplighters Music Theatre
Through: Aug. 21
Where: Aug. 5-7, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., San Francisco; Aug. 13-14, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts; 500 Castro St., Mountain View; Bankhead Theatre, 2400 First St., Livermore
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Tickets: $32-$52; www.lamplighters.org