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A CurtainUp Review
Pirates of Pencanze

We yield at once with humbled mien
Because with all our faults we love the queen.
— The Pirates
Kyle Dean Massey and Will Swenson (Photo: Kevin Sprague)
In order to fully appreciate the dazzling production at Barrington Stage of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance the audience needs several more pairs of eyes and ears to absorb this beautifully staged theatrical favorite. Every performance, song and dance is perfectly executed by a cast of polished professionals against a backdrop of an engagingly creative set.

The dramatic lighting design, and costumes in period dress add to that sensory overload. It is a feast of riches that from the first of two hours and fifteen minutes until the finale challenges us to keep up with energy and talent spearheaded by choreographer Joshua Bergasse and director John Rando; this duo engineered the same miracle three years ago with On the Town which eventually moved to Broadway with rave reviews and Tony nominations.

The original operetta premiered in New York in 1878 before moving to London. Joseph Papp revived it for the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1981. It entered American pop culture when it moved to Broadway and was subsequently made into a movie.

The premise is based on Gilbert and Sullivan's "Topsy turvy" theme where the hero Frederic (Kyle Dean Massey) has been apprenticed to a pirate band because his nanny Ruth (Jane Carr) thought that his father wanted him to be a pirate rather than the misheard "pilot." Now, at twenty-one, he is ready as a "righteous man" to leave the buccaneers because as the subtitle says, he is a "Slave of Duty" and he must hunt down his former comrades. Later on when faced with a "Paradox" he is just as sworn to the opposite viewpoint due to his nobility of purpose. Massey is as sincere and handsome as any hero has a right to be.

Frederic and Ruth, who is much older and has raised him, are stranded on a beach off Penzance, England. She has plans to accompany him as more than a nanny. Her comedic pleading and prancing endear her to us and we are sympathetic to her plight while chuckling at her manipulation. Frederic knows that that there must be other more appropriate women and he is so right as just then eight comely young ladies frolic onto the beach. He is smitten immediately with Mabel (Scarlett Strallen) and who wouldn't be? This gorgeous blond with the voice of an angel held the opening night audience spellbound. Her emotional interpretation of "Poor Wandering One" is intelligent and exquisite.

The other seven sisters are eye and ear candy as well. Dressed by costumer Jess Goldstein, they romp about in vividly colored Victorian summer dresses with stunningly intricate details. The pirates are garbed in equally imaginative piratical outfits. As they crawl through the theatre and mug with the audience both onstage and in the house, each actor evinces an individual shtick that lends itself to an action-filled cartoon in constant motion.
Will Swenson's Pirate King Aaarrgghh's!, swaggers and menaces with such elan that the ridiculous climax is somehow logical. Phillip Boykin as Samuel, the second pirate in command, uses great facial expressions, voice and body language to add more comedic folderol.

Anyone familiar with Pirates of Penzance knows that the father of this bevy of beauties delivers the famous patter song "I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" and whether the song is loved or not, it is delivered elegantly. David Garrison's Major General is played in a more sincere style as opposed to the usual buffoon and when he regrets lying to the pirates we believe him. Alex's Gibson's police sergeant is not only rubber-jointed and dextrous, but his basso is perfection as he and the less-than-brave police force march to "When the Foeman Bares His Steel" urged on by the woman who counter with "Go ye heroes - Go and die." Their obvious dismay at facing the brigands adds to the mirth. Somehow everyone is appeased with not an ounce of bloodshed and there is the guaranteed happy ending.

The scenic design by fabulous Beowulf Borritt supplies full rigging and an extended apron upon which the actors move into the audience with more of their horseplay. All of this is enhanced by Dr. Seuss-like backdrops which reinforce the whimsical ambiance. The lighting by Jason Lyons creates a dreamy haze which invites and holds the audience in its magnetic grip, keeping pace with the ever-moving stage shenanigans and scene changes.

Darren Cohen and Evan Roider direct the eight pit musicians who gift the production in all its delightful complexity with a clarity that reveals Sullivan's classical music genius and Gilbert's rapier social commentary.
Everything about this show should keep the audience captivated with childlike pleasure. All of the actors work together to create a seamlessly delectable confection. The entire Barrington team is to be congratulated.

In fact, in order to train the next generation of audience-goers, this is the ideal spectacle for kids. It is a top quality Broadway show, with affordable pricing. You have until August 13th to sail with this exceptional production.

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The Pirates of Penzance
A new version of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta
Directed by John Rando
Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse
Musical direction and additional arrangements by Darren R. Cohen
Cast: Phillip Boykin (Samuel) Jane Carr (Ruth) David Garrison (Major-General) Alex Gibson (Sergeant) Kyle Dean Massey (Frederic) Lindsay O'Neil (Edith) Jacqueline Petroccia (Kate) Scarlett Strallen (Mabel) Will Swenson (Pirate King) Ensemble: Darius Barnes, Tommy Bracco, Michael Hartung, Samuel Ladd, Melanie Leinbach, Jeanette Minson, Drew Nellessen, Benjamin Rivera, Morgan Rose, Alanna Saunders, Claire Saunders, Eric Stretch, Michael Williams
Scene design: Beowulf Borritt
Lighting design: Jason Lyons
Costume design: Jess Goldstein
Sound design: Ed Chapman
Wig Designer: Leah Loukas
Stage Manager: Michael Andrew Rodgers
Fight Director: Ryan WinklesThomas Schall
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, includes one intermission
Barrington Stage company, Boyd-Quinson Stage, Pittsfield, MA
From 7/15/16; opening 7/20/16; closing 8/13/16.
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at July 20 performance

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