I am not in the habit of reviewing the audience. But when a director can turn a crowd of about 200 mostly young, trendily dressed Wicker Park types into the happily participatory members at a loony pajama party set to the music of Gilbert & Sullivan — well, it is impossible to dance around the fact that some mutual magic is at work.
And so it was Monday night at The Den Mainstage, where The Hypocrites, and Sean Graney, their irrepressibly wacky director, presented the 85-minute, “promenade-style,” world premiere adaptation of “H.M.S. Pinafore.” This is a campy romp that comes complete with gender-flipped role-playing, floral print flannel pajamas, pillow fights in a mosh-pit like pool, and a group of 10 actors, game-for-anything, who can accompany their singing on guitar, banjo, accordion, violin, toy piano and more. And yes, there is a bar on the premises.
± Through Feb. 7
± The Hypocrites at The Den Mainstage, 1329 N. Milwaukee
± Tickets: $36-$50 per show;
± Info: (773) 525-5991; http://www.the-hypocrites.com
± Run time: 85 minutes with a one minute intermission
Traditionalists who favor the sort of D’Oyly Carte Opera Company productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas that were “state of the art” from their Victorian era origin until 1982, might be horrified by Graney’s playful warping. But as with “All Our Tragic,” his marathon take on the existing Greek tragedies (a huge hit earlier this year), the more you get into the swing of his approach, the more you realize he has captured the spirit, if not always the letter of the material. With “Pinafore” you need look no further than those moments when the entire audience is urged to make wavelike gestures with their hands and gleefully plays along.
“Pinafore” (which will run in rotating rep, with the same cast, in Graney’s earlier Gilbert and Sullivan productions of “Pirates of Penzance” and “Mikado”), takes place aboard the British ship of the title. Social class initially becomes a barrier to romance here, but ultimately the more forward-thinking notion of “the equality of humankind” triumphs. The gender-bending of the cast adds yet another layer of satire to the show’s commentary on position and power.
The actors, many of them veterans of “All Our Tragic,” are now engaged in “all our comic.” And they are so at ease as they make their way down a metal chute, clamber over wooden benches and parapets, and weave their way through the ever-moving audience that you half believe they are totally improvising. They are not. And everything here is ship-shape, with winning performances by Dana Omar as Ralphina, the shy but determined sailor in love with the Captain’s handsome son, Joseph (Doug Pawlik); Emily Casey as the liberal Captain Cat Coran; Robert McLean as (a not so little) Lil’ Buttercup; Christine Stulik as the fiercely in-command Admiral Dame Jo-Ann; Matt Kahler as flamboyant Cousin Heebies; Kate Carson-Groner as the wild Dot Dead-Eye; Lauren Vogel as a “sailress,” and Erik Schroeder and Shawn Pfautsch as porters.
Andrea Velis Simon’s musical direction is as playful as the adaptation. And costume designer Alison Siple once again demonstrates her insanely zany imagination and stylishness, dressing a crew of tars and officers in pajamas that begin to assume the quality of subversive uniforms.
So, give three cheers and one cheer more.