The production takes us on board the H.M.S. Pinafore as it is docked and awaiting the arrival of Sir Joseph, an important figure in the British navy. While the crew is preparing for his arrival, a woman who goes by “Little Buttercup” comes on board. Little Buttercup ends up taking a liking to the captain of the Pinafore but is holding onto a secret that does not get revealed until the second act. Meanwhile, Sir Joseph is seeking to marry the captain’s daughter, Josephine, but she is in love with a sailor named Ralph on the Pinafore. When Josephine tells her father this, he tells her she must not marry a sailor as they are of a lower class than her. The production revisits this theme of class disparities several times with another example happening when Sir Joseph finally arrives on board. He sings a song detailing how anyone can become the ruler of the Queen’s navy if they always stay at their desk and never go to sea. Josephine is then approached on deck by Ralph who confesses his love for her, but she turns him down remembering her father’s advice. Ralph then goes on to threaten suicide, which causes Josephine to confess her true love for him. They plan to get married that very night despite another crewmember, Dick Deadeye, warning them against going through with their plan.
In the second act, Little Buttercup confesses her feelings toward the captain but, like his daughter, he turns her down due to Buttercup being of a lower class. Dick Deadeye then has a conversation with the captain where he reveals the secret marriage plan. The captain confronts the soon to be couple, but a bit of profanity by the captain is overheard by Sir Joseph who sends the captain back to his quarters. Once Sir Joseph finds out the marriage plan, he sends Ralph to the brig. Little Buttercup then decides to reveal her secret. She is actually the foster mom of the captain and Ralph and she had switched them while they were babies. This revelation thus allows for Ralph and Josephine to get married, as Sir Joseph no longer wants to marry the daughter of a sailor.
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