Joe Dowling's staging of Gilbert and Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore" is a deluxe delight. From David Bolger's arresting choreography for a handsome crew of sailors and Andrew Cooke's disco arrangements for a live orchestra, to Fabio Toblini's sumptuous costumes and set designer Frank Hallinan Flood's tiptop ship deck, the creative team pulled out all the stops.
Their handiwork, which opened at the Guthrie on Friday -- the fifth anniversary of the Minneapolis theater's move to a Jean Nouvel-designed $125 million riverfront complex -- achieves its Broadway-sized ambition.
The lyrical acting ensemble delivers with relish, led by operatically trained Christina Baldwin as saucy Buttercup ("I'm Called Little Buttercup") and mustachioed Robert Berdahl as Capt. Corcoran. As the toothy, physically maladroit and morally dubious captain who never swears at his crew -- "well, hardly ever" -- Berdahl shows his comic gifts, starting with rocking "I am the captain of the Pinafore."
Gilbert & Sullivan intended their witty 1878 sendup of class as a critique of Britain. Dowling has advanced it a century while retaining the narrative. Capt. Corcoran's daughter, Josephine (Heather Lindell as a self-pitying innocent), is in love with a tar -- ordinary sailor Ralph Rackstraw (sweet, romantic tenor Aleks Knezevich). But her hand is promised to Sir Joseph Porter (unctuously entitled Peter Thomson), a big-bellied older man who has risen from office clerk to lord of the Navy without ever seeing a ship. He travels with a retinue of sisters, cousins and aunts. What should Josephine do?
Show updates include conductor Cooke's marriage of Gilbert & Sullivan with Abba-esque beats. Yet the karaoke-sounding parts of the score did not detract from the levity. Choreographer Bolger's gorgeous moves include a sexy tango by Berdahl and Baldwin (and Alfie Parker Jr. as her subconscious desire). There also is a terrific tap number plus an early dance by Baldwin and nine sailors in one line, each behind the other. Her cleavage-enhancing get-up, not to mention her agile coloratura, suggests that Buttercup is a feminine powerhouse.
And as he did with "The Pirates of Penzance" at the Guthrie in 2004, playwright Jeffrey Hatcher has nipped and tucked the script, adding a special visitor (the inimitable Barbara Bryne) while accenting puns, including with the frowsy, one-eyed seaman Dick Deadeye (roly-poly deadpan Jason Simon).
(On Friday, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was signing a marriage-equality law, one character said, "This is a queer world," drawing peals of laughter.)
The show's elements, including falling confetti and a disco ball, help to make this "Pinafore" the comic tonic for our bummer of a summer.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390