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A spy thriller without the thrills

The chances that World War II soldier Max Vatan (Brad Pitt: The Big Short) will survive his next mission are slim. He’ll be assassinating the German ambassador in Casablanca in a very public attack. Working with him is Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard: It’s Only the End of the World), a French resis­tance fighter.
    The heat, the adrenaline and their own attractiveness bring Max and Marianne together. After a steamy affair and a successful mission, Max proposes, bringing Marianne to England.
    By 1942, Max, Marianne and their small daughter seem to be living happily ever after in London, despite the German blitz. Until Marianne is flagged as a possible German spy.
    Now Max must prove her innocent — or execute her — all in 48 hours.
    Allied is a spy thriller without the thrills. The main problem is the relationship between Max and Marianne. How can two talented and attractive actors have so little chemistry? Their lack of sexual tension leaves you wondering why Max would marry Marianne, let alone risk treason to prove her innocence.
    Pitt’s bizarre acting has him looking stiff and uncomfortable. When he’s not speaking, he strikes a pose and holds it until it’s his turn to talk.
    Direction by legendary Robert Zemeckis (The Walk) guarantees that the film will look good. With lush costumes, sweeping camera work and expensive sets, he doesn’t disappoint. But by vacillating between dramatic scenes, harrowing action and broad comedy, he loses control of tone and tension. You watch not knowing if you’re supposed to laugh or be horrified.
    Beautiful, it is, but weak on story and acting.

Fair Spy Thriller • R • 124 mins.

Our best family night at the theater — ever

Anight at the theater — or anywhere, for that matter — is always an adventure when you have children in tow. A few weeks ago, our family of four attended a musical production in Baltimore that left me wondering if I had made a big mistake thinking my sons would enjoy the theater.
    Dad slept through the whole thing, the younger said there was too much singing, and the elder commented all the way through, despite my insistent hushing.
    So when we were invited to see Twin Beach Players’ holiday production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in North Beach, I was hesitant.
    Turns out I had no reason to worry. This was a performance crafted especially for the younger set.
    The boys began way more interested in the snack selection than the production to come. But once we were seated in our second row spots (they thought being so close to the stage was super-cool), their eyes were glued to the action.
    That revolves around a typical small-town Protestant church recreation of the nativity, complete with baby angels, shepherds in bathrobes and Mary and Joseph at the manger. This particular church, however, gets shaken to its core by the arrival of the Herdman children, a group of juvenile delinquents who terrorize and bully everyone they meet.
    The boys noted that it was “very meta. A Christmas play about a Christmas play.”
    They enjoyed watching the kid actors running around the stage during a faux fire in a type of Freleng Door Gag.
     “It was pretty nice,” says Jonah, the 12-year-old. “My favorite part was all the Herdmans — those are the naughty kids — discussing how they are going to change the church’s Christmas pageant. I can’t believe what they wanted the Wise Men to bring to the baby Jesus.”
    The entire cast did a delightful job bringing this hilarious story to life.
    I totally related to the stressed-out mom, Mrs. Bradley, played by Terri McKinstry, who is stretched thin trying to wrangle this production into something just short of organized chaos. Then I remembered … I was Mrs. Bradley! During my high school years, I portrayed this very woman in our own church performance of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I wore my mom’s corduroy jumper in that role. McKinstry was much more believable in the role.
    Elle VanBuskirk, playing the lead role of Beth Bradley, was composed, engaging and quite professional. It wasn’t till the show was almost over (a speedy two hours with one intermission) that we realized that the remarkable actress portraying the manipulative and cunning Imogene Herdman was VanBuskirk’s sister Emma. These two actresses were standout performers; we expect to see them in lead roles in many future shows.
    Son Jordan, eight, had his own favorite. “The girl who plays Gladys (Melly Byram) stole the show,” he says.
    He gave the production a hearty thumbs-up, his favorite ranking system.
    “I give it 4.8 stars,” he said. “I think people of all ages should see it, but it was very funny and especially good for children. And they should call it Revenge at Bethlehem, like the Herdmans suggested.”
    Jordan was also happy that there was very little singing … until the end, when he glared at me as the cast sang Christmas carols. I had promised him it was not a musical.
    “I gave it 4.5 stars,” Jonah said. “It was a little slow in parts but it was pretty good overall. It made me feel like I should look at people a bit differently in the future. We shouldn’t judge kids who act bad or are messy.”
    Thanks, Twin Beach Players, for opening his eyes — and for showing me that there is plenty of room in the theater for kids.


Fri. Dec. 2 & Sat. Dec. 3 7pm; Sun. Dec. 4, 3pm, Boys and Girls Club, North Beach, $15 w/discounts, rsvp: ­www.twinbeachplayers.com.

See this charming film about a girl who dares

Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho in her screen debut) was born to greatness. Beloved by all, she will be her people’s next chief. She returns their affection and promised to become an excellent leader.
    Still, she has a secret love: the ocean.
    More than anything, she wants to take a boat and explore the vast expanses of water that surround her island.
    But the ocean is forbidden. Not even fishermen are allowed beyond the protective coral reef that surrounds the island. Moana’s father dismisses wanderlust as the musings of a child.
    However Gramma Tala (Rachel House: Soul Mates) knows that Moana’s destiny lies in the sea. She tells Moana about the gods and the history of her people, who were great wayfinders, traveling across the ocean to discover new islands. Seeing the spirit of adventure reborn in her granddaughter, Gramma Tala believes her chosen by the water to restore the Heart of the Ocean, a sacred stone stolen by trickster demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson: Ballers).
    When the fish dry up and the island suffers, Moana sees it as a sign her Gramma was right. To return the sacred stone before her people die, she takes a small boat and her favorite pet chickento cross the reef in search of Maui and the true Heart of the Ocean.
    Spellbindingly beautiful and a lot of fun, Moana is the latest Disney princess movie to break the mold, offering little girls a get-it-done role model. Funny, smart and a hard worker, Moana is determined to save her people. You’ll find no love interest here; this film is all about a girl embracing her role as a leader.
    The film also features music from Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has a knack for clever lyrics and tailors each song to fit its singer. So you’ll be tapping your toes while watching this adventure.
    As Moana, Cravalho is a great discovery. She infuses the character with spunk, humor and kindness. The vocal star of the movie, however, is Johnson, who fills Maui with such charm and bombast that moviegoers in my screening cheered each time he arrived on screen. Johnson has long been able to command the screen, and this power transfers into animation. He is the closest Disney has come since Aladdin’s Genie to marry the public image of an actor with the character he voices.
    Gorgeous songs, great voice acting and a good story all contribute, but none so much as the film’s images. With beautifully rendered scenes on islands and the ocean, several animation styles and the reference point of Polynesian culture, the animators create a fascinating world.
    If you’ve got kids, Moana is probably on your calendar. But you don’t need kids to see this movie; it’s a fantastic step for Disney animation in both storytelling and visuals. Stay through the credits for a stinger hilarious to older viewers.

Great Animation • PG • 113 mins.

What do these aliens want from us?

One day, they arrive. Twelve giant pods hover over major countries throughout the world. No one knows where they came from. No one saw them coming. No one knows what they want.
    Every few hours, a door opens, allowing humans to enter the spaceships. Then what? The humans are stumped on how to communicate. Figuring it out falls to Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), a trusted linguist who has helped the military translate enemy radio chatter. Her mission: learn the aliens’ language — and develop a system of communication, ASAP.
    Banks has a deadline: China and Russia promise military action if the aliens don’t state their purpose or move on. Intergalactic war will end diplomacy.
    Complicated and painstakingly filmed, Arrival continues the sci-fi tradition of examining the foibles of human nature in a broader context. These aliens are a fully developed metaphor for humanity’s fears of the unknown and how fear shapes geo­politics. If that sounds a little too heavy for a movie featuring creatures that look like a blend of squids and spiders, I promise that director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) rewards you for expending brainpower at the cinema.
    Villeneuve and cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma) create an enthralling film. From the shape of the ships to the vast and isolating Montana backdrop, every shot is beautifully composed and styled. This world feels both familiar yet just alien enough to be unsettling. Expansive open areas contrast with cramped claustrophobic shots to ramp up tension.
    The script by Eric Heisserer (Lights Out), based on a story by Ted Chiang, picks at the ideas of destiny, time, communication and our drive to create connections. Lots of deep concepts are suggested. Still, the two-hour running time constrains their development, and Heisserer must rely on contrivance to wrap up the story. Like the classic Twilight Zone episodes written by Ray Bradbury, Arrival is both liberated and constrained by its medium.
    At the emotional core, Amy Adams is masterful. Her Louise is frightened but determined to make a connection. As she learns the alien language, she becomes more forceful. Banks discovers herself as she understands the aliens.
    An emotionally provocative sci-fi film that stimulates and rewards, Arrival is worth the price you’ll pay to see it on the big screen, where Young’s cinematography will have the most impact.

Great Sci-Fi • PG-13 • 116 mins.

Midshipmen take on Shakespeare on youth, war and relations between the sexes

Megan Geigner, the new director of the U.S. Naval Academy’s midshipman theater group The Masqueraders, grabbed the helm with deft touch and a focused vision, staging a delightfully energetic version of Shakespeare’s popular comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. She chose the play because it’s about young people, more specifically young people coming home from war, and about gender relations.
    Instead of the Bard’s Messina, Geigner has cleverly changed the setting to New Mexico just at the end of World War I. Changing Shakespeare’s setting can come off as artsy and presumptuous, but in this case it works well. The very nice southwestern-themed set by Andrew Cohen frames a production that, without changing Shakespeare’s meaning, opens up ample opportunities, most especially for some hilarious constables turned cowpokes.
    The Bard’s story of love, mistaken identities, gender conflict and status moves at rapid pace with crisp characterizations. Hero, the daughter of a nobleman, is in love with Claudio, a well-respected young nobleman. Her cousin Beatrice is in love with the sharp-tongued Benedick, whose witty and insulting repartee can’t disguise his love for her as well. Their back-and-forth banter, and Beatrice’s independence, wit and intensity make her perhaps the first suffragette ever to be included in a Shakespeare play, perfect again for this setting.
    As Hero and Beatrice, Clara Navarro and Julia Kalshoven brilliantly play two tough, strong-willed women. As Beatrice’s beloved Benedick, Jonathan Mendez adds nice comedic touches and confused patter to the befuddled character. Nick Hajek convinces us of Claudio’s willingness to sacrifice love for ego when faced with hearsay about his betrothed’s unfaithfulness. The chemistry between each couple is made nicely palpable by the actors.
    The real laughable foolishness comes with Shakespeare’s comic characters, the constables. Evan Wray is a hilarious Dogberry, the Master Constable whose smug self-satisfaction in most productions is replaced here by a frenetic, animated cowpoke in charge of a sad-sack cast of watchmen. Wray stops moving only long enough for his constantly falling cowboy hat to be replaced by a deputy. His performance as he instructs his charges how to do their jobs— sleeping on duty is fine, and never touch a criminal lest you become defiled by association — is a tumblin’ tumbleweed of  fun.
    The rest of the 17-person cast provides solid support and keeps the comedy flowing and the story unfolding apace, though in a few places more volume and projection would help the audience follow along. Lights by Jake Potter, Tony Wolfe and David Ogden nicely highlight the actors, set and moods, and Jacy’s Barbers’ costumes — especially the beautiful off-white period dresses of the ladies — work very well.
    The Nothing in Shakespeare’s title is the subject of debate: Some believe it refers not to the emptiness ascribed to it in the modern vernacular, but to the word noting, which in Shakespeare’s time was pronounced nothing but was a verb meaning to gossip, to spread rumors and to overhear. If this was Shakespeare’s intent, it makes sense because his play was not about nothing, it was about … well, something. And the USNA Masqueraders’ production is quite something.


Two and a half hours long with one intermission. Final performances Friday Nov. 18 and Saturday Nov. 19 at 8, Sunday Nov. 20 at 2, $13, rsvp: ­https://navyperforms.showare.com/eventperformances.asp?evt=35

Marvel gets metaphysical with this superhero romp

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch: Zoolander 2), the world’s most sought-after neurosurgeon, has an ego as big as his brain. He is smug and calculating, cold and talented.
    But his talent means nothing after an accident cripples his hands.
    Scorning the physical therapy recommended by intellectual inferiors, Strange spends all his money on experimental surgeries that leave him broke, alone and hopeless. He spends his last pound to fly to Nepal, chasing a miracle cure in a temple.
    Strange finds a community following the mystical teachings of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton: Hail, Caesar!). He mocks their mysticism and the idea of channel energy from the universe — until the Ancient One literally knocks the soul from his body. Convinced, Strange applies his brilliant mind and dogged drive to learning every facet of the teachings, gobbling up ancient books and practicing at all hours.
    Just as Strange is harnessing the powers of the universe, the attack comes. Former pupil Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen: Hannibal) wants to remake the world to suit his new beliefs.
    Kaecilius’ attack leaves only Strange and his trainer Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor: Triple 9) to defend the universe from a madman and his team of zealots.
    A mind-bending romp, Doctor Strange is, well, strange. That’s not to say the movie is without charm. Director Scott Derrickson (Deliver Us from Evil) eases us through confusing magical elements with slapstick comedy. Strange’s cape becomes a character, yanking the doctor around and doing silly things to distract the bad guys. Even baddie Kaecilius gets a few good punchlines. Mikkelsen, who’s strong bone structure and piercing eyes earn him parts as terrifying baddies in English-language films, has a bit of fun hamming up this villainous role.
    Derrickson also wisely skews the film toward younger audiences.
    This approach could devolve into puerile nonsense without a strong cast to keep it on the right side of ridiculous. Cumberbatch gives a charming performance, turning his prickly doctor into an endearing hero.
    There are problems, as well. Like most superhero movies, the plot doesn’t bear deep thinking. More troublingly, the film borrows heavily from Chinese and Nepalese imagery but features only one Asian actor with a speaking part (Benedict Wong, who offers some of the film’s best comedic moments)
    Though guilty of cultural appropriation, Doctor Strange should keep older viewers smiling and encourage younger viewers to attempt channeling the energy of the universe. If you’re looking for a popcorn flick for your whole clan, this film is strangely perfect.

Good Action • PG-13 • 115 mins.

Like a horrific accident, it makes you cringe even as you brake to see it better

When outrage-stage author Edward Albee passed away in September, the theater world mourned with a collective gasp, as if his death from old age were just another violent trick designed to snap us out of complacency. The triple Pulitzer prize-winner aimed to make audiences so uncomfortable they would “run out of the theater — but come back to see the play again.” He succeeded most notably with his first full-length production, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Pulitzer committee chose to grant no prize in 1963 rather than award it to Albee.
    Virginia Woolf, wrapping up its run at Colonial Players this weekend, is a ­surreal stress-fest about a middle-aged couple of psychological sado-masochists at a quaint New England college who entangle a pair of unsuspecting newlyweds in their calamitous sport. The ensuing mental warfare and infidelity, stemming from ancient domestic skirmishes, is booby-trapped with antagonistic gibes, outrageous lies, professional sniping and personal sabotage. Like a horrific accident, it makes you cringe even as you brake to see it better.
    It all starts one Sunday morning at two o’clock when Martha (Debbie Barber-Eaton), the college president’s feisty daughter, informs her weary husband George (Joe Mariano), a history professor, that she has invited the new faculty couple, Nick (Ron Giddings) and Honey (Sarah Wade), over for a post-party nightcap. George balks, but Martha rules, drunkenly and teetering with schizophrenic fervor between love and hate. The feeling is mutual, and George, less a victim than he appears, ultimately proves more acerbic and dangerous than even Martha could imagine, increasingly so as night lifts to morning amid broken and empty liquor bottles.
    As campus royalty, Barber-Eaton is a superb braying siren with a magical hold on her subjects and surprising frailty that she drowns in gin. Mariano delights as the only man who can tolerate her, percolating with ironic menace like sunrise coffee laced with arsenic. Giddings is every inch the uptight opportunist with Ivy League breeding and athletic bearing. Wade is adorably vulnerable as his naïve wifey. So impressive is this foursome that they just may sweep this year’s WATCH awards for acting.
    The only catch in casting, which would not be a big deal save for significant references in the script, is the unfortunate fact that the slim-hipped and therefore implicitly weaker of the two women plays Martha rather than Honey.
    The set is homey and collegiate with costumes richly detailed and period appropriate. Sound and lighting effects are few and unnecessary, as the characters provide all the pyrotechnics. It’s quite remarkable to watch these people drink, an average of six stiff drinks each in the three and a half hours it takes for the action to unwind. Yes, you read that right: for by the time the sun rises, presumably at 5:30, the audience has endured this emotional roller-coaster in real time, and that is most unfortunate.
    The script bills this as a three-hour production, already longer than most, yet Director Craig Allen Mummey chooses to draw out the dialog for dramatic effect at the expense of audience comfort. That trade-off many resented on the weeknight I resented.
    Still, this is theater at its best. Come fresh, without the kids.


Director: Craig Allen Mummey. Stage managers: Bernadette Arvidson and Kevin Brennan. Set designer: Barbara Colburn. Sound: Ben Cornwell. Lights: Alex Brady. Costumes: Carrie Brady.

Playing thru Nov. 12, Th-Sa 8pm, Colonial Players, 108 East St. Annapolis, $20 with discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.

A poignant look at one man’s struggle for self-acceptance

There’s something wrong with Little (Alex R. Hibbert in his screen debut). His mama (Naomi Harris: Our Kind of Traitor) and the kids at school see it. He walks funny; he’s soft; he ain’t no man. Mama calls him names, and the boys at school chase and beat him. There is no place he feels safe.
    With Juan (Mahershala Ali: Luke Cage), a local drug dealer, he finds acceptance. Juan teaches him that being a man is more than going hard and showing off. Being a man is knowing who you are. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe: Rio 2) offer Little the first safe space he’s ever known.
    In high school, Little — now Ashton Sanders (The Skinny) — calls himself Chiron. But he’s still a pariah, still called gay and still tortured. Chiron also has a crush on the only boy in school who’s ever been nice to him. The attraction is clearly mutual, but consummation seems impossible.
    Chiron tries to navigate his feelings, his neighborhood and what it means to be a gay black man in America. Will he crack under the pressure?
    Beautifully acted, skillfully shot and heart-rendingly written, Moonlight is a powerful movie with important things to say about the perception of masculinity. Director Barry Jenkins uses his feature debut to examine the duality of male lives, exploring how they vacillate from hard swagger when trying to impress to genuine emotions and tenderness with loved ones. Even Juan, who preaches being true to oneself, is divided. On the streets, he’s all bravado and no nonsense. At home or with Little, he shows his nurturing side.
    Characters are authentic. There is no Hollywood sheen on these streets, and motives may not be explained. It’s up to you to enter Chiron’s world.
    The role of Chiron is divided among three actors: Hibbert in youth, Sanders as a teen and Trevante Rhodes (Westworld) as an adult. Their roles blend seamlessly into an epic portrayal of one man’s journey. Hibbert and Sanders both excel at Chiron’s fear and uncertainty, making him a timid, quiet boy always seeking someone to care. As an adult, Chiron becomes a parody of stereotypical black masculinity, blasting rap music, wearing grills and being the toughest guy on the block. Rhodes shows how hollow that existence feels.
    Lyrical, emotionally heavy and full of commentary on race and gender, Moonlight is not a popcorn flick. This film requires you to think and dig deep to understand the mass of conflicts that make up the principle characters. If you’re willing to put in the sweat equity, you’ll see one of the best films of the year.

Great Drama • R • 110 mins.

The Holocaust goes on trial in this courtroom drama

An  historian specializing in the Holocaust, Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz: The Light Between Oceans) becomes obsessed with people who deny the reality of that genocide.
    Earning Lipstadt’s particular ire is historian David Irving (Timothy Spall: The Journey), a Hitler fan who claims the gas chambers of Auschwitz were made up. Irving is so offensive that Lipstadt decries his poor research and dubious motivations in her book on Holocaust deniers.
    Having made a career of courting racists through the guise of “uncovering the truth Jews attempted to hide,” Irving is outraged and sues her for libel in the British courts.
    The choice of court is important, for in British courts, the burden of proof is on the defendant. Thus to win, Lipstadt and her team of lawyers must prove that the Holocaust existed and that Irving perverted historic documents to claim it did not.
    It’s not a quick process.
    Experts pour over Irving’s writings and research for more than a year. While Lipstadt and her team are mired in facts, Irving takes to the airways, giving interviews and offering glib soundbites like “No holes, no Holocaust.”
    The Jewish community in Britain worries that Irving’s insane but printable rantings will foster a new generation of neo-Nazis. Fearing that even a victory will be overshadowed by Irving’s media circus, they ask Lipstadt to settle the case before more damage is done.
    Based on a true story, Denial is a fascinating legal drama about how far freedom of speech can be taken. Director Mick Jackson (Temple Grandin) frames the film as a legal battle, which can be interesting but has drawbacks. As the intricacies of British law are explained, we lose time with Lipstadt, who becomes a supporting player in her own story.
    In fact, the spotlight falls, rather ironically, on Irving. Portrayed as an odious little man who sees nothing wrong with misogyny and casual racism, he is a bit of a mystery. At times, he seems almost comically self-deluded, spinning every loss or setback as a secret victory. One is never quite sure if David Irving is an evil genius or an intellectual gnat with a large vocabulary and a talent for media management. Spall plays his cagey insanity beautifully.
    Weisz is excellent as the dogged Queens-born historian rankled that the British courts keep her from speaking, but sadly, she takes a backseat to this vile character.
    Denial is a film about events, not people. The trial is fascinating, but the movie feels a bit hollow. I wish Jackson had instead explored the characters and what drove them to the court. From Lipstadt’s fiery refusal to kowtow to a bigot to Irving’s tone-deaf belief that history is on his side, these actions want to be understood. If only director Jackson had allowed their motives come out.
    Still, in this election year, when outrageous statements are passed as truth, it is interesting to see a film that carefully proves that not all opinions are valid, no matter how loudly they’re shouted.

Good Drama • PG-13 • 110 mins.

This comic opera sparkles like sunshine on the sea with all the charm that made it a hit more than a century ago

You may have never heard of Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert, but you’ve certainly heard of Gilbert and Sullivan. The two had a run of comic opera hits in England whose popularity propelled them across the pond to America, where that popularity was magnified. Because Gilbert’s father was a naval surgeon, life on the seas and the politics of power were often themes of the librettist. That’s certainly the case with H.M.S. Pinafore, the light yet acerbic jab at patrician politics and love that 2nd Star Productions in Bowie has brought to seafaring life.
    Gilbert’s propensity for detail took him to the seaside of Portsmouth to measure and record every detail of a real ship so that his sets would be as realistic when the play opened in 1878. His could have been no more lifelike than 2nd Star’s. Director Jane Wingard has designed a nearly life-size two-level ship so real it makes us feel we’re bobbing along the waves with the crew. The detail is impressive, down to other ships far off in the background.
    The gorgeous set anchors (ha, see what I did th… oh never mind) a production that is brisk as a sea breeze. Josephine (Emily Mudd), the captain’s daughter, is in love with Ralph Rackstraw (James Huchla), a lowly deckhand. But she is expected to marry The Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter (Paul Koch), First Lord of the Admiralty. Porter’s lack of actual seafaring experience is revealed in his admonitions that each order be accompanied by a friendly “If you please.” So does his insistence that class hierarchy has no place on a ship, as all are equal. Which of course leads Josephine and Ralph to believe it’s clear sailing ahead (uh-oh, I did it ag… never mind) for their love.
    As Josephine, Emily Mudd is as bright as the North Star. One second she is perfectly and hilariously melodramatic and camp; the next she is regaling us with the beautiful and haunting ‘Sorry the Lot Who Loves Too Well.’ It’s as professional a performance as you’ll see on any stage. Her vocal chemistry with Huchla’s soaring tenor is thrilling, especially when the two square off on ‘Refrain, Audacious Tar,’ as she pretends to play hard to get when he professes his love.
    Huchla in fact leads a male chorus whose harmonies brilliantly permeate the show’s group numbers but are especially in evidence on the a capella sailors’ boast ‘A British Tar.’ 
    As Porter, Koch is quite funny, and his musical explanation of how he rose to his position through sheer ineptitude, ‘When I Was a Lad,’ is a comic delight as well — if only we could hear all of it. In giving his refined fop a constricted manner, Koch, at least on opening night, allows that manner to impede the rat-a-tat of so many of Gilbert and Sullivan’s staccato lyrics, thus forcing the audience to strain to understand what’s being sung. I hope he can crank the volume a bit; his performance is too good to miss. 
    Brian Binney brings a pleasant baritone to the role of Captain Corcoran, and to the captain’s reluctant flirtation with Pam Shilling’s beautifully sung Little Buttercup, the dockside vendor who harbors (there I go …) a deep secret. As the humpbacked, twisted-legged, one-eyed Dick Deadeye, Nicholas Mudd is so in character that the deformed leg maintains its twistedness even during the dances.
    Music director Joe Biddle understands that lyrics are key in a comic opera, so he ensures that his very good orchestra plays a less-is-more supporting role. There’s even a nice glossary of nautical and other terms in the playbill to help us track the language of the day.
    2nd Star’s H.M.S. Pinafore sparkles like sunshine on the sea. It’s a funny and very well-sung comic opera that gives us all the charm that made it a hit more than a century ago.


About two hours, including intermission. Choreographer: Christine Asero. Costumer: Hillary Glass, Lighting/sound designer: Garrett Hyde.

Thru Nov. 19: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, plus 3pm Nov. 19, 2nd Star Productions, Bowie Playhouse, $22 w/discounts, rsvp: www.2ndstarproductions.com.