Pirates of Penzance (Pre-Broadway?) at Barrington Stage
by NANCY SALZ, JULY, 2016
Libretto by W.S. Gilbert
Music by Arthur Sullivan
Directed by John Rando
Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse
Musical Direction by Darren R. Cohen
Scenic Design by Beowolf Borritt
Costume Design by Jess Goldstein
Lighting Design by Jason Lyons
Fight Choreography by Ryan Winkles
Sound Design by Ed Chapman
Starring Will Swenson, Scarlett Strallen, Kyle Dean Massey, David Garrison and Jane Carr
Featuring Phillip Boykin, Jacqueline Petroccia, Lindsay O’Neil, Alex Gibson with Darius Barnes, Tommy Bracco, Michael Hartung, Samuel Ladd, Melanie Leinbach, Jeanette Minson, Drew Nellessen, Benjamin Rivera, Morgan Rose, Alanna Saunders, Claire Saunders, Eric Stretch, and Michael Williams.
John Rando and Joshua Bergasse are ingenious at moving ensembles around a stage—be they orphan pirates, lovelorn young ladies or frivolous policemen. Pirates leap onto rope nets strung down from the top of the theater; they crawl down the aisles at our feet, swords in hand. Young ladies sidestep closely together as they pine in song for young men to be their husbands. Uniformed policemen hop onto each other’s backs or fall down onto the stage dominos style all the while delighting the audience into non-stop grins.
Rando and Bergasse, director and choreographer, respectively, of the new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA, have created an exciting, inventive production that is filled with glorious fun.
Actually, the fun begins even before the show begins. We enter the theater and find we’re on the deck of a pirate ship. We hear sea gulls, waves and clanging buoys. Behind the ship is a joyfully painted representation of an aqua ocean, blue sky and white clouds. Several seats in each of the first six rows of the orchestra’s center section have been replaced with a jutting pirate ship deck topped with a mast that reaches the ceiling.
The Pirates of Penzance, which premiered in New York City in 1879, has a hilarious, and for the time it was written socially satirical plot. Frederic (the fine Kyle Dean Massey, who has more of a pop than an operatic voice) has been apprenticed to pirates by mistake. He must remain with them until his 21st birthday. His 47-year-old nanny, Ruth (a funny but sometimes hard-to-understand Jane Carr) is hard of hearing. When Frederic was a boy she thought the boy’s parents said “pirate” when in fact they said “pilot.” These pirates, led by the simply fabulous, sexy, swashbuckling Will Swenson, are not very successful at plundering, however. Orphaned themselves, they refuse to harm anyone else who is an orphan—and we learn that most pirates were orphans. (Who knew!)
The plot begins in the final hours of Frederic’s apprenticeship. Poor lad has never seen a woman other than his nanny and wants to know if she’s pretty; he has no one to compare her to. She assures him she is. Frederic soon disembarks and discovers a group of beautiful young women. All are the pining-for-love daughters of the famous Major General (David Garrison, a fast-talking and hilarious patter master and cool hoofer as well). One daughter of the Major General, Mabel (a charming Scarlett Strallen with a stunning, operetta voice) enchants Frederic. They fall in love immediately. All seems to be well until the Pirate King informs Frederic that he was born on February 29th. Therefore, counting by birthdays, although he’s lived 21 years, he’s only a little over 5 years old. (Back to the pirate ship with him!) Then we find out the Major General, who has escaped the pirates’ wrath by telling them he is an orphan, has been lying. A band of policemen—(led by the show-stopping Alex Gibson. He is tall, lanky, and a fluid dancer with a wonderful bass voice)—enter to capture the pirates. Eventually the pirates are released, because they in fact are noblemen. Mable and Frederic are together, and everyone lives happily ever after. Only in Gilbert and Sullivan!
So many of the wonderful songs in Pirates are familiar: “Poor Wandering One,” “When the Forman Bares His Steel,” “When a Felon’s Not Engaged in His Employment,” and of course, the patter song “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General.”
The Barrington Stage’s version of The Pirates of Penzance was first mounted by the New York Shakespeare Festival (Joseph Papp, producer) at Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre. It transferred to Broadway in January of 1981, won three Tony awards and ran for 787 regular performances. It differs from the original and traditional D’Oyly Carte productions, not in the libretto but in that the orchestra has only one string player, a double bass. A predominantly string orchestra was the order of the day in Gilbert and Sullivan’s time.
Also, two songs have been added: “Sorry Her Lot” from H.M.S. Pinafore and “My Eyes Are Fully Open” from Ruddigore. Joseph Papp also indulged in some unusual casting for G & S, placing Kevin Kline and the pop singer, Linda Ronstadt, in the lead roles. But most important with Papp’s production and this one at Barrington Stage, a second level of satire has been added. The original was a satire on social mores. This production adds another layer of humor. It winks at the original satire.
This production has a huge chorus, all of whom can sing and dance and be comedic when called for. In total the cast numbers 22, not counting an audience volunteer who has a short appearance as Queen Victoria or eight, audience members seated on stage who join in the fun.
The choreography is this production is among the most inventive, humorous and joyful anywhere. The choreographer Joshua Bergasse, already quite brilliant, has topped himself once again.
The director, John Rando, is responsible, along with Bergasse, for all the movement in the show. He has inspired wonderful performances from all on stage. He milks every possible action and reaction to great and often very funny effect.
Darren R. Cohen is the splendid musical director.
With Bergasse and Rando it couldn’t be in better hands. Do not miss this one!
The Pirates of Penzance is at the Barrington Stage Company’s Boyd-Quinson Mainstage until August 13, 2016.