One day while rehearsing Cinderella last January, Tim Yakimec came into rehearsal, leaned over my shoulder and quietly said, “1920s Pinafore, new Jazz orchestration” and walked out. Well that was it, an idea pitched and sent out into the ether! Now I have to confess to being a bit of a Gilbert & Sullivan purist, but as I get older I am thinking more and more outside the box, and so along with my brilliant team of designers we set forth to explore this idea.
First, I had to be sure there was a concrete reason why this would work. I did plenty of research about the period and then looked at what the original piece was saying to find some links. The operetta mainly pokes fun at the class system in Victorian England. Similarly, during the 1920s there was indeed a very sharp divide between the old Edwardian Guard who were resistant to changes, and this brave new society of “Bright Young Things” who were advancing forward with new ways of living and thinking. This was my jumping off point.
When discussing the new orchestration, it became apparent that there was a very clear divide that helped dictate what music would be changed and what would remain traditional, based on the characters themselves. Obviously, the Captain, Sir Joseph and Dick Deadeye would remain very traditional. The sailors and “Sisters, Cousins and Aunts” would represent the younger set — they would be “Hip to the Jive”. Josephine starts her journey under the thumb of her father but breaks away and finds her own voice. And so this is how we proceeded.
In looking at the physical silhouette of the production, it was clear we needed to set the piece on a 1920s Cunard Liner, adding texture to the crew to reflect a more “Love Boat” group of workers, The Purser, chef, sailor etc. My two brilliant designers then created a spectacular look for the show.
Now the final test was hearing the first sound file of new orchestration. Within 30 seconds I was hooked! The physical production came to life in my imagination and we set sail from there. I do hope you enjoy this jazzy new HMS Pinafore!