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HMS meets RWHS

Ralph and Josephine, played by Connor Bergin and Emma Reese, fall in love despite the difference in their social status in "H.M.S. Pinafore," a comic opera that opens Thursday at the Sheldon.1 / 4
Cousin Hebe (Kristen Anderson, upper right) only has eyes for Sir Joseph (Franz Harris), but he can't take his eyes off Josephine (Emma Reese) and Ralph (Connor Bergin) in Red Wing High Schools spring musical. "H.M.S. Pinafore," by Gilbert and Sullivan, begins a four-day run Thursday.2 / 4
Little Buttercup (Mikayla Cota) has secrets that surprise everyone, including Captain Corcoran (Alex Christensen), whose daughter appears on the verge of a social disaster.3 / 4
Captain Corcoran (Alex Christensen) performs with a chorus of sailors including (from left) Dick Deadeye (Matthew Knudsen), Ralph Rackstraw (Connor Bergin) and Boatswain (Davis Leaf) in a scene from "H.M.S. Pinafore." Red Wing High School will stage the production May 9-12 at the Sheldon Theatre.4 / 4

Red Wing High School students will be the first young people to perform the Guthrie Theater's new adaptation of the comic opera "H.M.S. Pinafore; or, The Lass That Loved a Sailor."

The Gilbert and Sullivan musical will be performed May 9-12 at the historic Sheldon Theatre.

Director Sean Dowse, who also is executive director of the Sheldon, chose "Pinafore" for the school's spring musical for several reasons.

"We've got some great singers," he said. "Gilbert and Sullivan tunes are great. The story is fun, and we've got musicians at the high school to cover the pit (orchestra)."

Another attraction: the dancing -- especially the "monster tap number" that involves virtually the entire cast.

"We haven't done a tap show in 10 or 12 years; not since 'Anything Goes,'" Dowse said. "I love to watch it. There are some spectacular moments involving groups and individuals."

The Sheldon contacted the Guthrie for permission to perform its adaptation. Writer Jeffrey Hatcher and composer Andrew Cooke updated both the text and the music when the Guthrie staged the show during its summer 2011 season.

"This version is not generally available," Dowse said. "We will be the first high school to do the show."

Choreographer Staci Hanson has been working with the cast since February to prepare them for the production.

"It's really fun to work with all the students," she said. In addition to tap, "Pinafore" has scenes with students performing the tango, ballroom steps, Broadway and a bit of rock 'n' roll.

"There's dancing all the way through it," Dowse said.

Hanson, a choreographer/teacher at Shoreline Dance Studio, has been dancing herself for 22 years. She graduated from Minnesota State University-Mankato in 2009 with a degree in dance, got married and moved to Red Wing later that year.

Shoreline Dance's annual recital on the Sheldon stage introduced her to the local theater, and last year she worked with Red Wing Community Education and directed the Arts Alive stage show.

She didn't repeat as director this year for a very good reason: son Elijah was born just nine months ago.

Hanson is enjoying her first RWHS musical. The students are especially fun, she said, because "They want to be there. They work really hard. I'm pretty proud of them."

Dowse agreed. "This has been a huge joy to work on," he said. "It's very complex."

For him, there's something special about high school musicals that just doesn't happen at performances by adults - not even highly trained and talented actors.

Gilbert and Sullivan wrote satires on class, love and duty, Dowse explained. "Gilbert and Sullivan is all about doing your duty."

The difference when it's performed by young actors, he said, is "youthful exuberance and energy. On the high school level, you can get to these elemental issues."

Also working with the students are vocal director Mikkel Gardner and music director Dan Marrs in the pit. Heather Finholm created the "H.M.S. Pinafore" set, and costumes are by Karen Boek and Dace Miller.

Tickets are available at the Sheldon at $22.50 for adults, $14.50 for students. For information, call 651-388-8700 or go online to