BWW Reviews: Oh, 'Tis Better to be a Pirate Indeed!
What fun are the action fillEd Battle scenes with their epic swashbuckling and wonderfully choreographed crew of strong men making their way across the stage to proudly proclaim their identities as pirates; with what grace do the dainty young ladies flit about and admire those same pirates who come and take them away with promises of marriage, almost too fantastical a concept to ever really work. How wonderful it is to watch two lovers remain together through the difficulties of a leap year birthday. Simply put, the New YorK Gilbert and Sullivan Players' production of the infamous The Pirates of Penzance is one of the most remarkable shows a theatergoer will see before the near year rolls in.
The Pirates of Penzance, which was first performed at the Fifth Avenue Theatre on December 31, 1879 (precisely when this most recent production is scheduled to end) has returned to New York all these years later, this time to be found at Symphony Space on the beautiful Upper West Side. If this is a show you have yet to see, it is truly a surprise waiting to happen; having never seen this show performed, knowing of it only through name and reputation, this was as much as a personal shock as ever could be expected.
The dynamic duo of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, also responsible for such masterpieces as The Mikado (1885), has created a show which is more of an opera for the likes of musical theatre aficionados, yet nevertheless retains that grand quality of an opera performance; it is a mix of a soprano's dream of high notes, a tenor's ability to reach those same high notes in his respective octave, and the booming voices of baritones which, combined, make this show a true delight to the senses. Although it is a true adventure story, telling the tale of pirates who scavenge the seas and conquer (well, not necessarily...) those that pose a challenge to their band, and of a love that springs to life, only to be challenged by the obligatory acceptance of a man's duty (finger up!), this show can really be described as lighthearted and simplistic. At its core, it is a show that leaves the audience smiling, while also wondering how such fun could be had with themes that would make any other show into some sort of tragedy.
The Pirates of Penzance, in a nutshell, is about a recently turned twenty one year old man named Frederic who has been an apprentice to a band of pirates for most of his life; this, as is discovered, turns out to be a complete misunderstanding, as his true post was meant to be that of a pilot. Due to his nurse's bad hearing, he instead became a traveler of the seas in quite a different vessel. Upon his twenty-first birthday, he is granted his freedom from his pirate brothers, and ventures out to find a young woman who is apparently more beautiful than his middle aged nurse, and is only "supposed" to exist. The story follows Frederic as he encounters the beautiful (and beautifully trained as a soprano) Mabel, with whom he falls in love; of course, where love is involved, so are all sorts of other troubles and tribulations, one which gradually becomes evident is his leap year birthday. Straight through to the end of the opera, Frederic must choose between his love for Mabel and his duty to his brethren, to whom he is still, by some twist in the plot, indebted; without giving anything away, it's safe to say that all turns out alright in the end.
After attending an opening night performance, one would think that there would be a few kinks that need to be fixed, a bit of stage fright to overcome, or even a prop that didn't stay as it ought; there was no such thing as an imperfection in the NYGSP's first performance, so it is certainly safe to say that this entire production was planned out beautifully from its initial stages. From the setting - first the grassy, rock-covered plains that are too pristine to have ever been trod upon (a conjecture given by one of the Major-General Stanley's flighty young wards), followed by its opposite in the second act, a dark, cold ruin - to the choreography (which was superb), it truly took quite a bit of effort to bring this show to its feet. The actors, many of them appearing on behalf of the Actors' Equity Association, are simply amazing; without great actors, how can a show possibly succeed? From the talented and oddly charming Pirate King (played by David Wannen) to the unbelievably coordinated and comical Major-General Stanley (James Mills), to his ward Mabel (bravo to Sarah Caldwell Smith) and her lover Frederic (the very well cast Daniel Greenwood), this show simply WORKED as a result of how well these actors perform together upon the Symphony Space stage.