Comedy on the High Cs

The Pirates of Penzance

By Gilbert and Sullivan
Directed by Sidney Fortner
The Gallery Players
199 14th St., Brooklyn ([718]595-0547)
Equity showcase (closes Mar. 7)
Review by David Mackler

All the joys of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operetta The Pirates of Penzance were on display in the production at the Gallery Players. Gorgeously sung by all (well, nearly all -- more on that later), and well-directed for laughs -- but not at the expense of the material (the emphasis was on the funny rather than the camp), high nonsense was the order of the day, and there was little postmodern commentary on display.

After the pirates sing their rousing opening chorus, logic and sense are out the window when it is revealed that our hero, Frederic (Adam Wolfsdorf), now out of his indentured servitude, was supposed to have been apprenticed by his nursemaid Ruth (Bettina Sheppard) to a ship's pilot, not pirate. Oh well. When the Major-General's daughters show up, they prove to be even loopier than the pirates - no mean feat. Then there's Mabel (Lisa Trader), a lampoon of every pure operatic soprano character ever on stage. And don't forget the Pirate King (Alex Roe), full of bluff, bluster, and himself. Director Fortner moved the action along swiftly, embellished the script with hysterically funny business for all, and sharpened the comic timing so that everything scored. The choreography (Joan Murray) was more generalized motion than dancing, but when the girls "talked about the weather" as they self-consciously ignored Mabel and Frederic courting, or the pirates loudly burst in "with cat-like tread," all the high-comic elements were in place.

That there was real glory in the cast's voices cannot be understated. Ms. Trader had an angelic voice and a devilish sense of fun; Wolfsdorf was appropriately upright and also warmly funny, but never at his own expense. Sheppard was a strong comic foil (even though she appeared far younger than the lyrics indicate). Jeff Drushall made the Police Sergeant simultaneously heroic and buffoonish. And as for Ron Keith as the Major-General himself, that befuddled, sly old coot (and master of linguistics) -- so what if the he and the notes he sang were only in each other's general neighborhood. It came to seem, oddly, not altogether out of character. His daughters (gloriously multicultural as they were) must have inherited their voices -- especially the exemplary soprano Rebecca Holbrook -- from their mother.

The set (Luis Fidel Rodriquez) was simply painted flats and a painted backdrop, which served as a low-key background for the tomfoolery going on in front of it. And as a tacit acknowledgment of the archaic nature of the piece, the stage was edged with footlights. Costumes (Christopher Peifer) were just right, from the poofy shirts for the pirates to the daughters' dresses; from the Major-General's dressing gown to the policemen's Keystone Kops outfits. Musical director Andrew Abrams conducted his band of four into a full, supportive sound.

Okay, so most of the cast's British accents were wobbly. And the ghost of the Public Theater's production hovered slightly over these Pirates, but very benignly. In fact, some of the singing was even sweeter, without any rock-star posturing. Ruth and the Pirate King, in a song interpolated from Ruddigore, declared that "what we sing just doesn't matter." But in a delectable treat of a production like this, it does matter, most wonderfully.

(Also with Lynn Antunovich, Monica Bueno, Jennie Burkhard, Holy Chang, Michael Connolly, Cheron Cowan, William Demaniow, Troy Diana, Hugh Mack Dill, James Michael Dunsworth, Alicia Hearden, Sondra Morton, Pamella Pearl, Brian Purcell, Mason Scherzer, Greaton Sellers, Matthew Shirley, and Rick Trader.)

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting 1/Sound 2

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Copyright 1999 David Mackler