BWW Review: Sprightly, Sassy PIRATES OF PENZANCE Closes TAM Season
The Theater at Monmouth resumed its tradition of a fall Gilbert and Sullivan production with a sprightly, sassy, clever new take on the beloved chestnut, Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. In a significantly trimmed score and re-imagined concept, the work comes alive with a freshness, energy, and new slant to the humor, while retaining the silliness of the script and the appeal of the songs.
TAM's new production uses nine actors, two of whom double, to provide the zany antics of the plot _ a band of sentimental pirates and a conflicted romantic hero, Frederic, whose quest for duty creates a number of impossibly hilarious situations. Music Director Rebecca Caron not only plays the single piano - with fleet fingered felicity throughout - but has collaborated with the company to trim the score, removing a great deal of the underscoring for the dialogue, thereby shortening the length for a modern audience, creating a song to scene more "Broadway" approach, and eliminating much of the musical repetition which Gilbert and Sullivan purists may find de rigeur, but which can seem tedious to a modern audience. The result is a fast paced, tightly compact telling of the tale that keeps the characters and the songs at the forefront.
If there are some questionable choices in the concept/staging they are easily absorbed by the overall concept which dictates a Coney Island troupe of actors of mixed skills, an itinerant troupe, doing what they do best! However, the inconsistencies of the accents (a few attempted British, a few standard high American), the gender switch of the Pirate King to a female actor - justifiable in the concept, but confusing in that having the character dress as a Pirate Queen, use the original score (thus "he") and appear a bit androgynous in relationships on stage may need some clarification - is this part of concept or carelessness?
Adam Blais directs and choreographs, bringing a clever tongue-in-cheek wit, finding undertones and overlays in the period music which add a new dimension (perhaps not for purists, but truly original).For example, turning Mable's stratospheric coloratura into an orgasmic experience for Frederic adds a contemporary wit to the scenes, while still allowing the soprano to let loose her 19thcentury fireworks). He stages the show using all the resources of the small theatre effectively and kinetically. The set by Rew Tippin (props Rebecca Richards) is lovely, imaginative, and uses all the theatre's resources; it is well supported by lighting designer Jim Alexander and costume designer Michelle Handley. And though sound is not credited, it is always great to hear a show in this acoustic - not amplified.
The cast is a diverse one, again, made homogeneous by the concept, and they work together with élan. Billy Hutto is a charming, tomantic, attractive Frederic - boyish, silly enough, sexy enough - and very well sung in the best Broadway idiom. Laura Whittenberger as Mabel with her polished operatic coloratura possesses the exact voice G & S wouyld have wished for and she does justice to the role in every respect. John Anker Bow delivers the Major General's famous patter song and Act 2 numbers with aplomb, and Mark Cooper almost steals act with the Sergeant's number. The trio of other daughters, Isabelle, Edith, and Kate played by Caitlin Diana Doyle, Karen Lipovsky, and MacKenzie Richard are winsome and sing sweetly, while Ms. Doyle doubles as a feisty Ruth. As the Pirate "King" Candice Handy does her utmost to make a curious casting choice work; though she is an alto, she does not handle the low-lying baritone part well, except in the times when she gets to let loose her voice in the ensembles. That said she is delightfully original in the role and adds a certain frisson in the dramatic scenes.
TAM will celebrate its 50th season next year - no small feat for a company in Maine- and from the large, cheering audience, this is a welcome tradition. It is important for venerable institutions (in a remote state like Maine) to dare. Kudos to TAM for daring not only with this past season, but with the willingness to reinvent their Gilbert and Sullivan tradition!
Photos courtesy of TAM & Aaron Flacke
Pirates of Penzance runs at TAM, 796 Main St., Monmouth ME from September 13-23, 2013 www.theateratmonmouth.org 207-933-9999