In H.M.S. Pinafore or The Lass That Loved a Sailor,
W.S. Gilbert satirizes the snobbery and hypocrisy of the English
social system of his day. He tells the story of a lowly able
seaman named Ralph who has fallen in love with Josephine, his
Captain's daughter. Josephine, however, has been pledged by her
father to Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty. Although
Josephine is in love with Ralph, she is determined to remain
true to her breeding and marry the man her father has chosen.
Sir Joseph, for his part, professes to be a man of new ideals,
informing the Captain that "a British sailor is any man's
equal, excepting mine," and requiring him to soften his
commands to the crew by adding such civilities as "if you
please." But when Little Buttercup, a local bumboat woman,
lets slip that all is not what it seems, Sir Joseph's liberal
notions are put to the test.
The much anticipated premiere of H.M.S. Pinafore took
place at the Opera Comique in London on May 25, 1878 with a cast
that included George Grossmith (Sir Joseph), Rutland Barrington
(Captain Corcoran), George Power (Ralph), Richard Temple (Dick
Deadeye), Emma Howson (Josephine), and Miss Everard (Little Buttercup).
This production turned out to be Gilbert and Sullivan's first
smash hit and enjoyed a run of 571 performances. One reviewer
wrote of the opening night performance:
"Seldom, indeed, have we been in the company of a
more joyous audience, more confidently anticipating an evening's
amusement than that which filled the Opera Comique in every corner.
The expectation was fulfilled completely. Those who believed
in the power of Mr. Gilbert to tickle the fancy with quaint suggestions
and unexpected forms of humour were more than satisfied, and
those who appreciated Mr. Arthur Sullivan's inexhaustible gift
of melody were equally gratified. The result, therefore, was
'a hit, a palpable hit' - a success in fact, there could be no
mistaking, and which, great as it was on Saturday, will be even
more decided when the work has been played a few nights."
In fact, HMS Pinafore was so popular that by the time
the official New York premiere took place at the Standard Theatre
on January 15, 1879, there had already been numerous pirated
versions presented in the city. The official New York cast featured
Thomas Whiffen (Sir Joseph), Eugene Clarke (Captain Corcoran),
Henri Laurent (Ralph), Eva Mills (Josephine), and Blanche Galton