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BWW Review: THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE at Lyric Opera Of Kansas City

Lyric Opera of Kansas City completes its 2016-2017 season with an inspired exercise in silliness from the composing and writing team of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. 1879's "The Pirates of Penzance or, The Slave of Duty" rests on an amusing, yet unlikely premise. The result is confusing and bemusing, but always delightful.

The time and place is the late 19th century England during the reign of Queen Victoria. Frederic (Tenor - Jonathan Johnson) has just completed an apprenticeship aboard an 18th century Pirate ship delivered directly from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride at any one of several Disney theme parks. Leading this truly motley crew is the Pirate King (Bass-Baritone - Kevin Burdette) who does a passing impression of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.

Frederic has been apprenticed in error to the pirates. Frederic's nurse Ruth (Contralto - Margaret Gawrysiak) has misheard the apprenticeship instructions. He was instead to have been apprenticed to a harbor "pilot." Sounds similar, eh? Being an upstanding young man, Frederic was an excellent pirate apprentice, but now freed of his obligation, he has sworn to have his former shipmates arrested.

Handsome young Frederic is put ashore only to run into a bevy of twelve young maidens cavorting on the beach. Frederic, of course, is smitten on first sight with one particular young lady named Mabel (Soprano- Anya Matanovic). He has never seen a woman other than Nurse Ruth. Ruth, at age 47, is smitten with young Frederic and is something of a cougar.

The girls are all sisters, daughters to a retired Major-General (Baritone - Robert Gibby Brand) named Stanley. Major-General Stanley is the "model of a modern Major General," who loves his daughters almost as much as he loves his flask and his opium pipe.

Frederic organizes a raid on the pirates with the local police sergeant (Ben Wagner) and his band of mostly Keystone Cops. Frederic is visited by the Pirate King and Nurse Ruth prior to the most public raid. They convince the young man that since he was born on February 29th (Leap Year Day),his obligation to the pirates will not end until 1940 on his 21st birthday.

The resolution of this rather far-fetched and very funny plot will be left to the audience. "The Pirates of Penzance" is an operetta. Rather than the normal grand opera format during which all dialog is sung, "Pirates" has spoken dialog between musical numbers. Operettas tend to be shorter than grand opera and mostly comic. Audiences will see "Pirates" pretty much the way that 1879 audiences saw it in New York.

Operetta combined with the British Music Hall style then practiced in the UK are steps in the evolution of modern musical theater. The original production of "Pirates" was premiered in the United States because of a lack of USA-UK copyright reciprocity in the 1870s. Gilbert and Sullivan's 1878 HMS Pinafore had already been "pirated" and was being performed without royalties in venues as far flung from London as Tombstone Arizona.

The Lyric Opera production of "Pirates" is a fine representation of its type. Kevin Burdette as the Pirate King is appropriately heroic with a goofy streak. Burdette is a fine bass-baritone who has previously sung the Metropolitan Opera, the Washington National Opera, and the Dallas Opera. The young lovers are tenor Jonathon Johnson from the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Anya Matonovic a veteran of operas in Seattle, Boston, and New Orleans. Standout in this production is local actor and singer Robert Gibby Brand as Major-General Stanley. He is one funny guy. His iconic "Model of a Modern Major-General" is the one tune that has survived the show as parody in the generalized songbook.

"Pirates of Penzance" continues at the Kauffman Center on April 26, 28, 29, and 30. Tickets are available online at www.kcopera.org or by telephone at 816.471.7344.

Photo provided by the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and photographer Cory Weaver

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From This Author Alan Portner

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