Pirates of Penzance May 1, 2009
By Glen Creason
The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Society Players brought much mirth to the Performing Arts Center over the weekend with a stellar mounting of “the Pirates of Penzance” while taking no hostages. The two act comedy has been knocking them dead now for pert near one hundred and thirty years so I guess it is safe to call it a classic. Imagine folks listening to Beatles songs in the year 2093 and you have an approximation of the phenomena that continues to delight and give rise to the whistling of tunes like “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” for literally thousands of performances. Of course, the New York troupe started as street theater in the 70’s but found that the public just could not get enough of Gilbert and Sullivan and the rest is history. It seems the locals feel about the same way judging by the rather full house and the wild cheering that greeted the Friday evening performance. Lest we forget these songs and tomfoolery have endured through the waxing and waning of the British Empire, through several world wars and crossed every boundary known to man. There is some lesson to learn here about war versus musical comedy.
The production at Cerritos started well with a sprightly live orchestra playing the wonderful overture, spinning through the many memorable melodies that spice the frolic.
The Players sent out a fine cast lead by Colm Fitzmaurice who played Frederic to perfection and overcame some light opera orchestra volume challenges without losing his dedication to duty. Others who shone in this wildly fantastical farce were Michele McConnell as Mabel, David Wannen as the charming cad, the Pirate King and Stephen Quint as the much tested but always-jolly Major General Stanley. Betina Hershey distinguished herself as dancer and player without one single solo. The comedy is painted with the broadest of strokes but there is a kernel of pathos hidden in there somewhere and parts of that were coaxed out by Angela Smith as the feckless Ruth, the hard of hearing maid-of-All-Work. The costumes fit right into the fantastical production, looking more like a fun party than a Caribbean takeover and the sets were expansive and efficient. The songs, especially “Modern Major General…” and “A Rollicking Band of Pirates We” just never grow old. What makes this kind of long in the tooth, tongue in cheek show work over and over and over is the snappy, lively songs full of clever lyrics, the brisk dance steps and the colorful costumes and sight gags that work seemingly forever. Why, would there be a big crowd out to see old Gilbert and Sullivan stuff? Because live musical comedy is way better than the reality TV of humiliation, the films of explosions and blood and the music of misery and degradation. The Pirates of Penzance brought good clean fun and that seems like more than enough. It’s a pure goof that is light, vibrant, silly and refreshingly engaging in all of its aged beauty.