After Two Long Years, Pinafore Makes it to the Stage

Queens students, Charlotte residents, and guest stars are coming together Nov. 13-14 to stage a Victorian musical called “H.M.S. Pinafore, or the Lass that Loved a Sailor.” Based in the 1870s-1880s by Sir Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert, the musical comedy is about rank, class, and general silliness.

Photo Source: Maci Romero

“What’s interesting is that the jokes in the play are applicable today,” said Justin Smith, music professor and music director for the show. People still live in a culture where the rich and powerful have a better time and people born into privilege have an easier time in life, he said.

Comedy focuses attention on underlying issues and makes people think, Smith said: “Satire is a serious tool because it makes people pay attention to the frothy silly energy.”

Lindsey Lefler, assistant director, described Pinafore as the genesis of modern musical theater.

After two years of production delays caused by COVID-19,  Smith said, “we are slowly but surely getting back into it. We are excited to finally use our brand new theater that has an orchestra pit, big stage, and seats thousands of people.”

The play’s cast includes students, members of the Charlotte community, and guests from other states and countries. The play’s formal director, for example, is Alistair Donkin, a British actor, and director with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company — the original London company that first staged Gilbert and Sullivan musicals starting in 1875.

Because COVID-19 restrictions prevent Donkin from entering the United States, the Queens company is relying on him as an executive director who provides notes and expertise by Zoom. The new director, Laurence Cox, is also playing a key role. And Cox’s wife, Lindsey Lefer, is assistant director.

Smith explained that music, art, design, and communication departments are helping with this production. “This is a whole liberal arts experience that Queens thrives on,” he said.

What’s interesting about this show is the diversity of the cast, said senior music therapy major Janay Armbrister, playing the role of Hebe. “Seeing our cast and who is involved I think we are very diverse compared to other schools.” Armbrister also enjoys the close bonds among the cast and with members of the community.

Smith joined Queens in the semester before the COVID-19 lockdown and said part of what drew him to the position is the music department’s dual mission of supporting both students and community members. The theater department has connections with Opera Carolina and community music teachers and incorporates adults in performances.

Keely Billiar, a freshman biochemistry major, and music therapy minor, explained the range of cast members in the show. “When I came to rehearsal, I was surprised how many upperclassmen and adult students were in the play. I thought it was cool and definitely brought a sense of community to the production,” Billiar said. 

Two years after work first started on Pinafore, the Queens company is back in production — but with a different student cast. Armbrister, now playing the role of Hebe, had a different role prior to COVID-19.

“Last year I was in the movement group but finding out I would have a different role that would allow me to be seen more than heard fit my personality better,” she said. “With my new character, I feel like I can break out and you can see me and know who I am.  I’m just happy to be back.”

Dr. Justin Smith (left) and tenor Michael Stromar, who will portray the role of “Dick Deadeye” in the comic operetta “H.M.S. Pinafore.”

Pinafore performances: 

Saturday, November 13th at 7:30 pm

Sunday, November 14th at 3 pm & 

Sunday, November 14th at 7:30 pm. 

Tickets are $10/$5 for students and seniors. 

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Published by students of Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28274.