THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE

Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan
Libretto by W. S. Gilbert
Directed & conducted by Albert Bergeret

The third in the duo’s legendary series of collaborations, Gilbert and Sullivan’s exuberant sendup of Victorian pomp wastes no time in plunging its audience into the world of topsyturvydom. The title alone radiates sheer silliness, as Penzance, a cheery seaside resort town, was hardly a breeding ground for bloodthirsty privateers. Of course, that’s only the beginning of the show’s many spins on Victorian narrative conventions.

In keeping with the customs of the time, loyal nursemaid Ruth (Angela Christine Smith) has dutifully consigned her young ward Frederic to a professional apprenticeship. Due to Ruth’s impaired  hearing, though, the lad did not become a pilot-in-training, but rather a pirate-in-training. Lucky for him, the buccaneers, led by the Pirate King (Matthew Wages), are hardly the most murderous of men. They look impressive, but their gentlemanly nature prevents them from harming the defenseless. Nevertheless, adult Frederic (Carter Lynch), having just turned 21, feels he must repudiate his pirate pals and join the ranks of polite society. He even plans to marry but, having never laid eyes on any female personage other than Ruth, doubts his ability to select an appropriate bride. No sooner has he voiced his lament than a bevy of eligible maidens cheerily alights on the shore. Naturally, they’re as curious about Frederic as he is about them. He and Mabel (Katie Dixon) fall in love, and are Ali set to sail towards a sunny future. But complications lurk around every turn. It turns out Frederic’s contract with the pirate crew runs out on his 21st birthday, not his 21st year. Since he was born on a leap year, the wedding plans will have to be put on hold for about, oh, 63 more years. Little help comes from Mabel’s dad Stanley (David Macaluso). Though he’s the very model of a modern major general (you might say he’s also the father of the modern patter song), he isn’t quite sure he and his men are up to a scrimmage with the infamous Pirates. Of course, there are more twists to come, some involving the bungling, if vocally gifted, police force commended by a melancholy sergeant (David Auxier).  

Given its age (140, this year), it’s remarkable how modern PIRATES feels. The production boosts the plays’s relevance by adding a few anachronistic touches (bunny slippers, New Years Eve hats, even a sly Trump reference), but for the most part it’s the cast’s commitment and confluence of talents, coupled with the opulent set and costume design, that brings the evergreen material to rollicking life. From Auxier’s Ray Bolgeresque dance moves to Malacuso’s verbal dexterity, Wages’ charismatic roguery to Smith’s winsome sauciness, the cavalcade of wit and slapstick keeps coming. Of course, all this drollery would mean little if it weren’t counterbalanced by a sincere approach to the show’s romantic storyline.  Lynch’s beguiling innocence and pluck make him an ideal protagonist, while Dixon’s agile soprano turns ballads like the lilting “Poor Wandering One” into showstoppers. Director/conductor Albert Bergeret moves his baton at the ideal tempo: allegro, but never rushed.

THE PIRATES OF PENANCE ran through December 30, 2018 at the Kaye Playhouse. Check here for information on upcoming shows: https://nygasp.org

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