BWW Reviews: 5th Ave's PIRATES OF PENZANCE Does Honor to a Classic


I hope you will indulge me, Dear Reader, as I will not be reviewing the current production of "The Pirates of Penzance" at the 5th Avenue Theatre. Instead let's call this what it is, a thank you letter to the remarkable cast and crew at the 5th Avenue for infusing a musical theater classic with such heart, fun, humor, talent and beauty that even a diehard fan of the show found himself leaving the theater with a huge grin on his face and a renewed love for the piece. (I'm referring to myself, of course.)

For those unfamiliar with the most recognizable of the Gilbert and Sullivan canon (and where have you been for the past century?) allow me to step away from the thank you letter to elucidate. The dreaded but tender hearted Pirates of Penzance have come into port to celebrate their young apprentice pirate, Frederic (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka), becoming 21 and finally out of his indentured servitude to the Pirate King (Brandon O'Neill). But even as much as he loves this rowdy band, he despises their way of life and now, released from his contract, he sets off on his own to find his own way and plan the destruction of the pirates. His former nursemaid, Ruth (Anne Allgood), trails after him hoping to find her way into his heart. But when Frederic sees a bevy of beautiful young maidens including the beguiling Mabel (Anne Eisendrath), he realizes that Ruth is not the one for him and sends her away to pursue Mabel and ask for her hand from her father, Major General Stanley (David Pichette). But Ruth and the pirates are not finished as they have devised a plan to get Frederic back into the fold and abduct all of the Major General's daughters whose only protection is a group of anxious Canadian Mounties (yes the story has been transplanted to Vancouver) led by the stalwart Sergeant of the Police (Jared Michael Brown).

BWW Reviews: 5th Ave's PIRATES OF PENZANCE Does Honor to a ClassicOK, back to the letter. I must start by offering special Thanks to the crew of this incredible production beginning with (but not limited to) Tom Sturge for his wonderful lights and glorious set and Christine Tschirgi for her dazzling costumes. They created a breathtaking world of old school theater fun. No gimmicks with projections or mechanicals, just beautifully painted sets and backdrops lit with care to the location and mood. And of course I must mention the outstanding direction and choreography from James Rocco. He managed to squeeze every last drop of comedy from this raucous romp with clever asides, sideways glances and hilarious pratfalls. If I had one complaint about the show it's that there was too much fun going on making it hard to decide which hilarious bit to focus on. And his choreography never once felt like a dance break but merely an extension of the story they were conveying. BWW Reviews: 5th Ave's PIRATES OF PENZANCE Does Honor to a ClassicAnd now to my sincere gratitude to the cast. A tighter and more fully invested in the overall tone of the show ensemble you will be hard pressed to find. As I said, it was hard to pick out what to watch there was so much goodness on stage from the cream of the crop of Seattle performers. Herdlicka and Eisendrath portrayed the two star crossed lovers with grace and even managed to make their love song heartfelt in the midst of all the jocularity. O'Neill managed to lead this band of brigands with a bombastic swagger and million dollar smile to brilliant result. Allgood's doughty nurse is only surpassed by her piratical transformation into saucy wench and is no end of fun. Pichette dives into the loquacious Major General with both feet giving him a blustering over melodramatic air and manages the insanity of his patter song with seeming ease. Brown brings an air of Dudley Do-Right to his Sergeant with his rich tones and comedic chops. And I must mention Cayman Ilika, Jenny Shotwell and Billie Wildrick for taking on the three spotlighted supporting sisters and making more than just expository voices out of them with their thoughtful and engaging characterizations and antics.

So let's recap. An absolutely beautiful world on which a thoughtful and uproarious story was told complete with outrageous characters, swoon-worthy Pirates and Mounties, lovely and hysterical ladies and all backed up by a killer orchestra led by Joel Fram and complete with some genius new orchestrations and arrangements from Bruce Monroe and Albert Evans which practically became another character in an already stunning show that is a must see. There is just so much here (and more) to thank you all for. And I do. THANK YOU!

"The Pirates of Penzance" performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through August 4th. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at

Photo credits: Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin

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From This Author Jay Irwin

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