“Let the air with joy be laden, rend with songs the air above, for the union of a maiden with the man who owns her love!”

—Sir Joseph Porter K.C.B., Captain Corcoran, Josephine
H.M.S. Pinafore
The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company’s Fiftieth Mainstage Production of

H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass Who Loved a Sailor

October 27, 2023 - November 19, 2023

Photo Gallery


H.M.S. Pinafore Program

H.M.S. Pinafore 2023 Cast


Stage Director: Gary Briggle
Music Director: Dr. Randal A. Buikema

Director’s Notes

Ahoy, matey! Welcome aboard Her Majesty’s Ship H.M.S. Pinafore, “An Entirely Original Nautical Comic Opera,” which first set sail on May 25, 1878, with the composer at the helm. There was never any question that the mission of this glorious vessel was always intended to satirize, in the most hilariously melodramatic ways possible, the rigid social class structure of Victorian England and to lampoon, in “Monty Python” style, the appointment of bureaucratic landlubber W. H. Smith as First Lord of the Admiralty.

Subtitled “The Lass That Loved a Sailor”, this comic gem was the first of the outstanding, world-wide successes of our only too easily parted duo, filled with rousing sea shanties, stirring patriotic hymns and sly, operatic parody, as well as some of the most beloved characters in all their Savoy Operas. Flushed with the success of his first full-length opera, The Sorcerer, playwright, and critic W. S. Gilbert was determined to improve on the quality of plot he constructed. Encouraged by producer and impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, he proposed his latest scenario to Arthur Sullivan – apparently the highly distinguished composer of “The Lost Chord” and “Onward, Christian Soldiers” needed some convincing. Carte needed none; he had just created The Comedy Opera Company specifically to perform the works of these celebrated collaborators and set about to fulfill all of their wishes and desires, within reason. If you haven’t seen the delightful film Topsy-Turvy, seek it out at once and be amazed by how this temperamental triumvirate created a new genre of musical theater, despite tempests and tantrums.

The original production, first entitled H.M.S. Semaphore, featured a scaled-down but absolutely accurate replica of a British warship, based on Nelson’s “Victory,” and Gilbert ordered all the uniforms made by the same company that outfitted the Royal Navy. Even more remarkable was the revolutionary way in which he employed the chorus, not just as backdrop, but as an active component in the advancing of the plot. It’s no wonder these operas are considered the foundation of the Great American Musical!

It may surprise you to learn that Pinafore was not an overnight success. Audiences were deterred by a miserable early summer heatwave, so Sullivan cleverly decided to perform an overture of excerpts on his Promenade Concerts at Covent Garden. Word of mouth soon boosted ticket sales, and the daring political/social satire of the opera made it the must-see event of the season.

Months passed, and Pinafore set sail on international waters. There were no copyright laws in America, and within a year eight productions were playing in New York, simultaneously! Pirated productions, featuring vulgar music added by overzealous managers, leggy showgirls dressed as sailors, and even an interpolated “Hallelujah Chorus” added to the “Pinafore-mania” that was sweeping the nation. D’Oyly Carte could not allow this piracy to run amok since he was reaping no profits from these productions, so in the autumn of 1879 the three men sailed across the Atlantic with a cast drawn from the Comedy Opera Company. The first authorized performance of H.M.S. Pinafore in the United States opened at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York on December 1, 1879, with the librettist himself, sporting a false beard, amidst the sailors on deck.

From that time to this, there have been few evenings when “airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore” could not have been heard wafting from some church auditorium, school multi-purpose room or community theater. So “be careful to be guided by this golden rule: Stick close to your desks and never go to sea, And you all may be rulers of the Queen’s Navee!”

Gary Briggle


Seth Tychon Steidl as Frederic and Anna Maher as Mabel

Kaoru Shoji as Josephine, Anthony T. Rohr as Ralph Rackstaw

Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company Presents its 50th Production H.M.S. Pinafore By Rob Hubbard, StarTribune of the Twin Cities

H.M.S. Pinafore Reviews

         Stages of Minnesota, by Rob Dunkelberger

         Play Off the Page, by Mary Aalgaard

         PhenoMNal Twin Cities, by Stephanie Kwong


Two excellent internet resources for information about H.M.S. Pinafore

Wikipedia – H.M.S. Pinafore

The Gilbert & Sullivan Archive – H.M.S. Pinafore

H.M.S. Pinafore 2023 Show Poster

Show Poster

Poster design by Tom McGregor and Mary Olson
H.M.S. Pinafore 2023 Company Photo

Company Photo

Photography by Bethany Jackson, Twin Cities Headshots

Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen, the clouded sky is now serene, the god of day, the orb of love, has hung his ensign high above, the sky is all ablaze.

—Josephine and Ralph
H.M.S. Pinafore