Review: Gilbert and Sullivan's Treasured PIRATES Romp Through Charming PENZANCE at MKE's Skylight

By: May. 25, 2016
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Photo Credit: Mark Frohna
Photo Credit: Mark Frohna

Gilbert and Sullivan returned to the Cabot Theatre when Skylight Music Theatre presented the iconic duo's comic Pirates of Penzance. The popular G&S operetta had opened the curtains nine times at the Broadway Theatre Center, and when directed by Shawna Lucey, a strong feminine element appears in these familiar women--Ruth, Mabel and Major General Stanley's bevy of beautiful daughters. their wits up against Frederic and his "orphan" band of tender hearted pirates.

Lucey directs the production adding contemporary flair, true to the G&S traditions of satire, dousing the classic with a touch of modern Monty Python alongside Carol Burnett Show moments, which incorporates some bipartisan political comments. These pirates swing in from ropes for the operetta's opening, eat popcorn and unashamedly declare their softer emotional side.

A huge postcard dominates the stage backdrop, and emphasizes England's Cornwall seacoast as a tourist destination under Peter Dean Beck's playful scenic designs. In the second act, Major General Stanley's mansion, on the historic register of houses, was purchased from the Bunberry's, the imaginary countryside invalid named in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Combined with the inventive, eclectic choreography channeling Charlie Chaplin and MTV by Ryan Cappleman, the evening sets sail carrying multiple humorous treasures---a true contemporary comic delight faithful to the original Gilbert and Sullivan intent.

Andrew Varela's Pirate King can be utterly disarming, especially in contrast to Benjamin Robinson's handsome Frederic, the orphan they raised as a pirate until his 21st birthday when he's to be released into society. In one scene, when Frederic removes his shirt after wooing Mabel in a seaside cave after meeting his "first" real woman besides his nursemaid Ruth, women in the audience appreciated the role reversal when a man became the physical eye candy in place of the woman.

True love Mabel's forthright personality moves the pirates and her sisters to action, a role perfect for Julie Tabash Kelsheimer, and complements Robinson's Frederic with warm chemistry, especially in the song, "Stay, Frederic, stay." Susan Wiedmeyer, Samatha Sostarich and Kaylee Annable add to an accomplished ensemble of Major General daughters adored by the pirates.

In a stellar comic and vocal performance, Drew Brhel's Major General Stanley sparkles whether dressed in elf slippers underneath a nightshirt and holding a teddy bear or in uniform singing the complex G&S masterpiece "I am the very model of a modern Major General." A role parallel to Frederic's nursemaid Ruth, the lithe Diane Lane, Major General also transforms throughout the operetta. However, Ruth's pleading personality wishing for romance in the first half changes into a women of power dressed in pirate's clothing, with her own mind and manners, under Lane's veteran talents.

In a performance where the women stretch the men while affectionately wishing for happy couplings or marriages, the Skylight's Pirates romps through Gilbert and Sullivan with confidence, cavorting through the longstanding tradition to offer modern day wit. The revelry and "swashbuckling" humor, with the pirate fights choreographed by Christopher Elst, was also accompanied by the acclaimed Music Director Robert Linder and the 13 piece orchestra under his command.

These professional combinations spark the audience for an evening of sheer mayhem and music sustaining the relevance of this timeless opera. Gilbert and Sullivan fans and first time operetta goers can hold great expectations to be thoroughly entertained--and underneath the comedy, perhaps question what a person's sense of duty requires, allows or refuse one to do, and how specific are these law and regulations society places upon a given population?. What laws stand relevant and what needs to be changed or taken with a closer focus on reality? Or as exemplified in Gilbert and Sullivan, how does one actually count birthdays when they only land on February 29, a leap year?

Applause to the cast, and technicians, including Costume Designer Shima Orans and Lighting Designer Kurt Schanbel, for climbing on board for Lucey's directorial debut in this charming, effervescent operetta "swashbuckled" with modernity. Then kudos to Artistic Director Viswa Subbaraman and his innovative perspective by challenging the expectations for this art form through an operatic and musical visionary season at Milwaukee's Skylight. In this absolutely riveting production of humor, robust personalities, memorable music and heartfelt pleasure arrive wrapped up in this merry band of Pirates and seven modern maidens. The Skylight's ?Pirates of Penzance will transform audience members into avid Gilbert and Sullivan fans, perhaps along with a few 21st century technology pirates, too, while peering ahead to future opera treasures.

Skylight Music Theatre presents Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance at the Cabot Theatre in the Broadway Theatre Center through June 12. For information on the Skylight Night, June 18, 5;30 p.m. the company's annual fundraiser, 2016-2017 season tickets, or tickets to the performance, please call: 414.291.7800 or


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