Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore” opens Friday at Iroquois Amphitheater. The comic operetta is part of the new “Iroquois Amphitheater Presents” series produced by Metro Parks.
Amphitheater manager Mike Slaton says this series is designed to bring affordable arts programming to the historic stage. The 74-year-old amphitheater underwent a $9 million renovation in 2003, and after a period of contracting, Metro Parks brought the management of the 2,400-seat facility back in-house in 2009. The venue has hosted a number of sold-out concerts since, including Black Keys and The Shins, as well as a production of the musical “Once Upon a Mattress” last summer. A black box performance space, Parkside Studio, was also created to host small productions in colder months.
“It’s been a struggle for the last couple of years to find the system that’s going to work out here and have the amphitheater be profitable, but still also be an arts venue,” says Slaton.
Slaton says Metro Parks decided to produce a Gilbert and Sullivan show in part because the operettas pay tribute to the facility’s history as a stop on the summer musical circuit in the late 1930s and '40s. The amphitheater was built as a Works Progress Administration project in 1938.
“My goal out here has been to build a sustainable future that's respectful of the past,” says Slaton.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s late 19th century operettas, including “Pinafore” and “The Pirates of Penzance,” laid the groundwork for the modern American musical. They still resonate in pop culture, like in running jokes on “The West Wing” and “The Simpsons.”
Director Gregory Maupin says the quirky Victorian elements of political satire still feel relevant, and it doesn’t hurt that the songs are incredibly catchy.
“The wordplay is a lot of fun, and it’s the kind of stuff that bears up under repeated listening, unlike some things, especially comedy, once you know the joke, surprise being a large part of it,” says Maupin. “With Gilbert and Sullivan, there’s a lot of subtlety, considering how broad they are.”
“H.M.S. Pinafore” runs through August 25. Metro Parks plans to produce “Pirates of Penzance” next summer.