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The Pirates of Penzance
The pirates of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta are back on the tall ship Peking at the South Street Seaport for another summer of the most environmentally apt musical entertainment in New York. As in last year's version of The Pirates of Penzance audiences will receive a Boatbill instead of a Playbill and board the ship for ninety minutes of following the performers around the deck as they sing and dance their way through their irreverently comic adaptation of one of Gilbert & Sullivan's most popular works. (There are some seats available on the upper deck but anyone who isn't infirm will prefer being right in the center of the action)
G & S purists may wonder how the distinct style of the British musical team can accommodate swing, rap, gospel, pop. To be sure, there are moments, when you'll feel as if you've wandered into the wrong show but the thing is to board the Peking with realistic expectations. This is a "theater" in the heart of one of New York's major tourist destinations. The music must compete with the horns from ships at sea and the cars on West Side Highway. Part of the non-traditional approach and environmental setting also calls for acceptance of the bare bones production values and less than uniformly experienced cast. In short, all prepared to accept a production that's more South Street Seaport than D'Oyly Carte worthy and you will have a good time.
Michael Scheman, who also directs and has cleverly updated some of the lyrics, has stayed reasonably close to the story of young Frederick (Colin Hanlon, a suitably handsome newcomer to Off-Broadway), who has been accidentally indentured to a gang of pirates. As the play opens, he's turned twenty-one and is free to leave (and vanquish) his shipmates.
An operetta not being true to its genre without a romance, Frederick has a star-crossed (temporarily, naturally) romance with Mabel (Montego Glover) the daughter of a modern Major General (Martin Van Treuren who gets to sing the show's best and most true to G&S hit, "I am the very Model of a Modern Major General". In this production, the Major General also segues from mustachioed officer to busty Ruth, an older woman who refuses to let unsuitability deter her from insisting that Frederick has been promised to her as her husband. Other major players include a police sergeant (Kevin Covert, a singing and acting standout who also contributes strongly in a variety of ensemble roles) and, of course, the pirate king (an agile Jonathan Brady).
The multiple role playing keeps the ensemble hopping to Tony Parise's choreography which, like everything else in this show, is best when it's closest to the Gilbert & Sullivan sensibility. Besides the already mentioned "I am the very model. . . ", the most successful numbers are "When the Famous Bears his Steel; My Eyes are Fully Open; Stay Frederic, Stay , " and a terrific "The Policeman's Lament." Montego Glover, while an attractive young performer, seems to totally forget where she is as she milks "When I Was Small" as if she was auditioning for a major Broadway pop-rock show.
What would Sir Gilbert and Sir Arthur this deconstruction of their classic? In anticipation of that question, Mr. Scheman has written a little epilogue to provide an answer -- at least the answer according to Scheman and company.
Consumer note: Wear comfortable clothes and bring a jacket. It can get kind of breezy on that boat.
Anyone interested in a "pure" G&S performance might consider a trip to the Berkshires to see the Berkshire Theatre Festival's main stage season opener of H.M.S. Pinafore ( go here for details and watch our Berkshire Main Page for a review). During the run of that show, Mr. Parise's choreographic talents will be seen at another Berkshire venue, Barrington Stage, during their revival of On the 20th Century.