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The Pirates of Penzance

Delightfully animated and colorful revival of the classic G&S operetta with contemporary comic touches.

David Wannen as the Pirate King and Stephen Quint as Major General Stanley in a scene from “The Pirates of Penzance” (Photo credit: William Reynolds)

David Wannen as the Pirate King and Stephen Quint as Major General Stanley in a scene from “The Pirates of Penzance” (Photo credit: William Reynolds)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Gilbert and Sullivan is alive and well and living at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Continuing its 41st Season, New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players is presenting a delightfully animated and colorful revival of the classic G&S operetta, The Pirates of Penzance, with contemporary comic touches. The lilting score with its many famous melodies is given a fine reading by conductor Albert Bergeret and his orchestra of 25 musicians, while his direction with David Auxier is right on target with swift pacing keeping the satiric story moving briskly along. With the typically excellent diction by the NYGASP acting company, this Pirates of Penzance is an excellent place to start for theatergoers who are unfamiliar with G&S, as well as great fun for G&S aficionados.

The story satirizes hypocrisy, morality and loyalty. Frederic, “the slave of duty,” who was accidentally apprenticed to the pirates of Penzance instead of a pilot (as his nurse was hard of hearing) is about to turn 21 and to complete his indenture. Having never seen another woman, he believes that Ruth, his now middle-aged nurse turned Pirate maid-of-all-work, is a prime example. At that moment, a bevy of beauties, the wards of Major General Stanley, appear and Frederic asks if any of them will take pity on a poor pirate when Mabel agrees to love him.

David Auxier as the Sergeant of Police and Sarah Caldwell Smith as Mabel in a scene from “The Pirates of Penzance” (Photo credit: William Reynolds)

David Auxier as the Sergeant of Police and Sarah Caldwell Smith as Mabel in a scene from “The Pirates of Penzance” (Photo credit: William Reynolds)

The pirates, however, seize all the other wards. When Major General Stanley arrives, he lies and says that he is an orphan, and the tender hearted pirates (all known to be orphans) allows him, the wards and Frederic to go on their way. The second act (set later that evening at the Stanley estate) deals with the consequences of the Major General’s lie, the announcement of Frederic’s real leap year birthday, and the subsequent happy ending for (almost) everyone with the revelation of the true birth of the pirates.

The score includes the first act’s world-famous patter song, “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” deliciously sung by James Mills (alternating with Stephen Quint) as Stanley. In the second act, Frederic, Ruth and The Pirate King have a fun time with the rollicking “Now for the Pirates’ Lair (A paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox!).” The Sergeant of Police and the Police Chorus make the most of playing Keystone Kops in “When A Felon’s Not Engaged In His Employment (a policeman’s lot is not a happy one)” which includes the Sergeant’s droll ad libs with the percussionist. The “With Cat-Like Tread, Upon Our Prey We Steal” is a rousing chorus with its well-known crashing cymbals punctuating the lyrics.

David Wannen, Sarah Caldwell Smith, David Auxier, James Mills and conductor Albert Bergeret (seated) in a scene from “The Pirates of Penzance” (Photo credit: William Reynolds)

David Wannen, Sarah Caldwell Smith, David Auxier, James Mills and conductor Albert Bergeret (seated) in a scene from “The Pirates of Penzance” (Photo credit: William Reynolds)

The cast includes beloved NYGASP favorites as well as some less familiar faces. Coloratura soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith’s Mabel wins a justly earned ovation singing her aria, “Poor Wandering One!,” declaring her love for Frederic. He is played with cheerful restraint by tenor Carter Lynch (alternating with Daniel Greenwood). Bass-baritone David Wannen has a fine swashbuckling time as The Pirate King. Contralto Angela Christine Smith as Ruth gives a memorable rendition of her aria, “When Frederic Was A Little Lad.” Bass David Auxier as the Sergeant of Police deals delightfully with his band of bumbling officers.

The elaborate scenic designs by Lou Anne Gilleland surpass early NYGASP settings. Gail J. Wofford’s colorful costumes put each of the 12 Wards in a different Victorian gown and hue. The lighting by Benjamin Weill includes the sunny Act One on the beach of Penzance, a moon which rises in Act Two on a very blue background, and a sky that turns red, yellow and orange for one of the Police’s production numbers parodying A Chorus Line. Bill Fabris is responsible for the jaunty choreography that accompanies the pirates and the police, as well as the ballet sequence for three of the Major General’s Wards.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta The Pirates of Penzance may be 136 years old, but you would never know it from New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ spirited and buoyant revival now at the Skirball Center. The NYGASP season continues May 21 and 22 with G&S’s rarely staged battle of the sexes, Princess Ida.

The Pirates of Penzance (through January 2, 2016)

New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players

NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 La Guardia Place, in Greenwich Village, Manhattan

For tickets, call 888-611-8183 or visit http://www.nygasp.org

Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (397 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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