"Pirates of Penzance"
Goodspeed Musicals, East Haddam, CT
A rollicking version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” is now at Goodspeed Musicals, and there is much to commend the production, despite its flaws. A lively opening number, with the pirates in good form, gets the show under way and sets the tone.
But too often the pace lags, with each major number ending with a wait for audience applause. This unfortunate way of milking audience response is most annoying. And there are changes to the script which may or may not be to the good. This “Pirates,” which is set in the Caribbean, slyly inserts topical political references. One more swipe at the present regime is a cliché that does not enhance the show. And the Caribbean? Are we watching Johnny Depp and his cohorts? Not to put down Depp or the film, but why tamper with a classic? Why fix what is not broken? Why not stick with the original irreproachable “Pirates of Penzance”?
This production’s saving graces are its solid performances, its irresistable tunes, and its fine stage set. As always, the Goodspeed people have managed to adapt a major production to a small, intimate stage. Designer Rob Bissinger has created a delightful set, both on land and sea, which works well within the stage’s limitations.
Mostly, director Gordon Greenberg is true to the Gilbert/Sullivan tale. The saga begins with the usual absurdities. An orphan boy, one Frederic, was indentured after birth, quite by accident, to a pirate ship. His nursemaid had confused the words “pirate” and “pilot.” Now, at 21, he is free to leave, and, as he does so, falls in love with a respectable maiden, daughter of the Major General. Frederic is torn between his new love and his old loyalties. Most of all, he is concerned with doing the honorable thing, whatever that means.
The story plays out with all the delicious Arthur Sullivan music and William Gilbert lyrics, joyously rendering such tunes as “Poor Wandering One!” and “A Modern Major General.” Highlight numbers are “A Paradox,” rendered by the trio of singers, the policemen’s zany dance number “Tarantara!”and the Major General’s song “The Nightmare!”which opens the second act. Ed Dixon creates a pompous larger-than-life comic character as the Major General, and Andrew Varela is a properly swashbuckling Pirate King, dominating the stage with his presence. Joanna Glushak plays Frederic’s one-time nursemaid Ruth with abandon and high spirits, spelled out in her lusty number with the pirate ship’s crew. The young romantic leads (Jason Michael Snow as Frederic and Farah Alvin as Mabel) are less satisfying, however. Though Snow sings nicely and creates a sweet, timid Frederic, he is mismatched with Alvin, and their love duets are hardly convincing.
But why quibble, since this “Pirates” is a feel-good show destined to please audiences. And Goodspeed, looking out over the Connecticut River, still exerts its magic.
-- Irene Backalenick
Nov. 7, 2006