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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review

After a lifetime spent in stealing, cheating and unnatural practices, what possible career are they (the pirates) prepared for? — Major General Stanley
Government.— Mabel, after a long pause.
Left to Right: Julia Burrows, Julia Osborne, Morgan James, Robyn Kramer, Katie Babb, and Tory Ross
(Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
It shouldn't surprise anyone that a bold and politically perceptive adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance would surface in the light of the phenomenal success of the comedy/adventure film series Pirates of the Caribbean. There have been variations on this classic operetta over the years, including the one by Joseph Papp, as well as the more reverential staging recently presented by the New York City Opera. But this one from the collaborating team of Gordon Greenberg, Nell Benjamin and John McDaniel has really turned the flippant old patter spiel tuner on its ear. It takes the cake; make that rum cake, for bringing the antics of a motley band of pirates, a naive assemblage of syncopated sisters and a bumbling detachment of nincompoops up to date with a twist.

Greenberg, who did such a smashing job with the Paper Mill's revival of the cult musical The Baker's Wife, has reconceived the action with a hip and hearty thrust of bravado. Benjamin, fresh and flush from the excitement of her and her husband Laurence O'Keefe's Tony nomination for their score for Legally Blonde, The Musical, has both generously replaced and audaciously augmented many of Sullivan's original lyrics, with no apologies necessary. Purists may take umbrage with the new-ish lyrics and libretto that resonate with Benjamin's own voice, some a little crude. But let it be known that all of her liberties stood the test of at least these responsive and receptive ears.

McDaniel's musical arrangements and orchestrations invite the sounds of a steel drum and delightfully enhance the zany qualities of the score with the flavor of the Caribbean, the setting for this new version. The super but small orchestra, under the direction of Shawn Gough, is perched visibly within the confines of a low stone wall in the center of a two level stage mainly designated to be awash with comically virile swashbucklers and fair maidens. Greenberg has successfully fused this production's contemporary theatricality into the traditional spirit of G. & S.

The rapid fire patter of the lyrics that fly trippingly off the tongue are as dexterously executed as Warren Carly'le's cleverly untraditional choreography. Its witty flourishes of island rhythms affords the lamentable brigade of town drunks and misfits a chance to do more than behave like inept Keystone Kops.

Ed Dixon is more than splendid as the stuffy doting father/dithering Major General Stanley, whose esprit de corps defies anyone saying that he has been too long in the noon day sun. Dixon,, whose theatrical specialties range from playing General Wetjoen in The Iceman Cometh to Thenardier in Les Miserables on Broadway, brings an insinuating wrinkle to his show-stopping patter songs, "A Modern Major General," and "The Nightmare", the latter earning him even more applause.

You can't ask for a more impressive entrance than that made by Farah Alvin, as Mabel, who lands on this non-specific Caribbean island in a hot air balloon. Dressed in safari suit and helmet with a bird cage serving as a back pack and wielding a pet tarantula and a butterfly net, Alvin charms us easily enough, as do her sisters who are especially good at "smiling vacantly."

Although Andrew Varela is decidedly handsome and dashing and all those things that are prerequisitea for the Pirate King, it is his invigorating panache and playful countenance among a bevy of cuties that is most ingratiating. Also no slouch among the affable brigands is Barrett Foa, as Frederick, the young man fated to romance the winsome Mabel—much to the disappointment of his nurse maid Ruth, as played with a robust lustiness by Liz McCartney.

Set designer Rob Bissinger has taken a cue from the Encore Series at City Center in which the concept of a concert is embellished with costumes, action and simple trappings to indicate locales at sea and on land. In this instance these embellishments include palm trees, barrels, hanging mobiles and a few props. David C. Woolard's circa Queen Anne costumes are as fantastical as the grungy scoundrels and gregarious sisters who don them. The plot twist, if you must have it spelled out, has to do with a voodoo curse that makes the pirates "landsick." No skull and crossbones about it, there are pirates of the Caribbean here that are doing just fine without Johnny Depp.


Pirates (or Gilbert and Sullivan plunder'd)
  Book and Lyrics by Sir William S. Gilbert
  Music by Sir Arthur S. Sullivan
  Directed by Gordon Greenberg
  Cast: Farah Alvin, Ed Dixon, Barrett Foa, Liz McCartney, Gerry McIntyre, Andrew Varela
  Scenic Design: Rob Bissinger
  Costumes: David C. Woolard
  Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
  Sound Design: Randy Hansen
  Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including intermission
  Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, N.J. 273/376 - 4343 or
  Produced in association with Goodspeed Musicals
  Performances June 7 to July 8, 2007; opening June 13, 2007
  Wednesday at 7:30 PM, Thursday at 2 PM & 7:30 PM, Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM & 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM & 7:30 PM
  Tickets: $19 to $68;
  Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance June 13, 2007
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Pour, 0 Pour The Pirate Sherry / Pirate King & Pirates
  • Apprenticed To A Pirate Ruth
  • The Pirate Curse / Pirate King & Pirates
  • The Pirate King /Pirate King & Pirates
  • Oh, False One / Frederic & Ruth
  • Into The Jungle / Daughters
  • Stop, Ladies, Pray / /Frederic & Daughters
  • Oh, Is There Not One Maiden? / Frederic & Daughters
  • Poor Wandering One / Mabel & Daughters
  • The Weather / Mabel, Frederic & Daughters
  • A Modern Major-General / Major-General Stanley & Company
  • An Orphan Boy / Major-General Stanley & Company
  • Away / Away / Company
Act Two
  • The Nightmare / General Stanley
  • Tarantara / Sergeant, Mabel, Police & Daughters
  • A Paradox / Ruth, Frederic & Pirate King
  • Away / Away / Reprise / Ruth, Pirate King& Frederic
  • Stay, Frederic, Stay / Mabel & Frederic
  • A Policeman's Lot / Sergeant & Police
  • Cat-Like Tread / Pirate King, Pirates & Police
  • A Noise / Major-General Stanley & Daughters
  • Finale / Company
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