"Just plain silly." That's the only way to describe a musical with singing pirates, dancing police, and a song about the Pythagorean Theorem. Pirates of Penzance has been consistently performed all over the world since its debut over 100 years ago. Arthur Sullivan's music is so catchy it burrows into the listener's brain, lays eggs, and can never be gotten out again. And any lyricist -- like W. S. Gilbert -- who can find a rhyme for "hypotenuse" while using it in the correct context deserves to be preserved in musical-theatre history.
Pirates is the story of Frederic (Dan Callaway), a reluctant apprentice pirate who is torn between his duty to his pirate buddies and his love of Mabel, whose friends are in danger of being pillaged by the pirates. Through a preposterous paradox, Frederic must aid the pirates' plan to pillage Mabel's playmates.
Theatre Ten Ten did a marvelous job in mounting Pirates. Using a relatively small cast of a dozen actors on their smallish Off-Off-Broadway stage made the show less of a spectacle and let the audience focus on the performances and material, rather than distracting with flashy over-the-top musical numbers.
The production was by no means understated, though; the whole cast was clad in elaborate period costumes by Lynne Marie Macy (where DOES a lady find a matching bonnet/parasol set these days?), and the sets (Laura Lambert) were more than just decoration, and provided plenty of multilevel things for the cast to dance upon (or more often, just climb up and strike piratey poses on). Don Bill's choreography could not be contained to the stage, and the Pirates pranced through the aisles and stole upon their prey with cat-like tread through the audience.
Gilbert and Sullivan geeks may be annoyed to find out that there has been some tinkering. The Police were Canadian Mounties at Theatre Ten Ten, but only the most hardened Gilbert and Sullivan purist could turn up their nose at dancing Mounties (dancing Dudley Dorights are ALWAYS funny). There were also some unconventional casting choices. Ruth, for example, was played by an actress who was about 30 years too young for the role. Jill Cathleen Johnson played and sang Ruth well, but the pretty, 20-something-year-old was simply too young to play a character who is repeatedly referred to as being old, ugly, and gray-haired. The most notable casting anomaly was the use of a woman as the Major General. Again only G&S geeks could complain about Jillian Hemann's performance: she nailed the show's most famous number and proved that (despite her gender) she truly was the very model of the modern Major General.
Despite an excellent performance by Hermann, the true standout of the show was Leah Horowitz as Mabel. Horowitz was in danger of shattering the glass on the marquee in front of the theatre when she hit her high notes in "Poor Wandering One."
Director David Fuller, along with musical directors Charles Berigan and Jason Wynn, did a wonderful job presenting this classic.
(Also featuring Michael Bertolini, Kirstie Bingham, Abe Goldfarb, Christopher Guilmet, Dara Seitzman, Tamara Spiewak, Kevin Vortmann, and Jason Wynn.)
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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby