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A Banjo in 'H.M.S. Pinafore'?


Fans of Gilbert and Sullivan will either be thrilled or appalled by the newest production at Actors Theatre of Louisville: a re-interpretation of "H.M.S. Pinafore" that features banjos, audience participation and everybody in pajamas.

"It's sort of nautical-themed, but it's more pajama-themed," said Sean Graney, founding artistic director of The Hypocrites, the Chicago-based company that's bringing the show to Louisville, and co-director of this production.

The Hypocrites were responsible for the beach-party style "Pirates of Penzance" staged at Actors Theatre in 2014. They focus on reimagining classic works but didn't do musicals for many years because most are under copyright and don't lend themselves to the approach. But the works of Gilbert and Sullivan are under public domain.

"I was like, aw, Gilbert and Sullivan, they're so stupid and frivolous. I never listened to them, I never gave them a chance," said Graney. "And then I listened to 'Pirates of Penzance' and read the libretto, and I fell instantly in love."

The 10 performers act as their own orchestra, playing multiple instruments including guitars, banjo, accordion, toy piano and spoons.

"Anything that you can grab and move around with, we pretty much use it," Graney said.

"H.M.S. Pinafore" premiered at the Opera Comique in London in 1878. In this production, all the roles written for men are played by women, and vice versa, to poke fun at some of the dated gender references in the original script.

"Gilbert and Sullivan, although I love and admire those guys, they're not known for their feminist outlook on life," said Graney.


The Hypocrites also feature audience participation in many of their shows, including this one. Audience members can choose to sit on the stage, which includes bunk beds and a pillow pit, and interact with the performers during the show.

"There's one character that goes around hitting the audience with pillows," Graney said. "That goes antithetically to something that people would enjoy, but once they get hit with the pillows ... we've never had anybody not just roll on the floor laughing, cause they're getting beat with a pillow. It's so strange!"

“HMS Pinafore” opens at Actors Theatre this week and runs through Dec. 13.

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