BWW Reviews: NYGASP's THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE Delightfully Invades Wolf Trap

BWW Reviews: NYGASP's THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE Delightfully Invades Wolf Trap
Clockwise from left: David Wannen, Sarah Caldwell Smith,
David Auxier, James Mills, Albert Bergeret

The Pirates of Penzance, Gilbert and Sullivan's classic romp of an opera is pleasure enough; but the lovely open air setting of Wolf Trap's Filene Center on a pleasant summer's eve makes the frolics of tender-hearted pirates, not-so-naive maidens and a constabulary force who seem to have misplaced their resolve, all the more of a treat. This production was brought to DC care of The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players (NYGASP), who have been celebrating their collective love of Gilbert and Sullivan for many years, organizing as a nonprofit in 1975.

The tale's cast of characters includes Frederic, the young swain who may or may not have fulfilled his indenture to the swarthy Pirate King and his roguish band; Ruth, Frederic's nursemaid of many years whose affection has grown romantic; the merry Major General Stanley; his daugther, the lovely Mabel; her many sisters, and the sergeant of police and his crew. Much to the audience's delight, none are ever far from a laugh or a song. The plot seems almost an afterthought, a delightful excuse for as much whimsical silliness as can be fit in, and it's hard to go wrong with a substantial cast of comedic performers climbing about a plywood seaside, although I did find that the rebuffed nursemaid's ongoing romantic pursuit of her now-grown charge seems superfluous, and not quite funny enough to hold up its end of the tale.

The NYGASP ensemble of players was of particularly fine voice as a group, and along with the leads, did a marvelous job with the familiar songs; most especially "I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General," performed with charming hilarity by James Mills.

BWW Reviews: NYGASP's THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE Delightfully Invades Wolf Trap
David Wannen as The Pirate King, James Mills as The Major General & Ensemble

As a group, the pirates were all hale and hearty, and their King (David Wannen) was humorously suave and not-so-dangerous; but it was the hapless policemen, pressed into protecting the Major General, his daughters and the honor of his recently acquired store of ancestors, were a comic highlight of the production. They may not have done much in the way of battling pirates, but that did not diminish their accomplishment as entertainment. They were ably led by their Sergeant, played by David Auxier, master of the pratfall, and finely choreographed wobble. He is joined in slapstick by the wonderful Louis Dall'Ava as the cop who makes clumsiness a calling.

Whether or not you can make out every lyric being beautifully sung by the company, you are sure to get the gist. The leads, especially the excellent Daniel Greenwood, as the very funny and immensely likable Frederic, were mostly quite clear and articulate in their numbers, though a few mic problems caused some slight gaps. As in many cases, even with operas performed in English, you must often enjoy the soprano's work as music, not so much for the lyrics (owing to the high register blurring the syllables) but for the skill and vocal control. In this case, Sarah Caldwell Smith as Mabel, was truly a marvel.

The sets and costumes are also deserving of note, appropriately cartoonish and lush at the same time (special mention goes to the glowing moon in Act II; all the more effective in an outdoor venue like Wolf Trap).

And would that all overtures were played with the conductor (in this case, Albert Bergeret, NYGASP's Artistic Director) and orchestra rising out of the pit for their moment in the spotlight. Not only did it serve to grant the musicians their due, but it was particularly effective at quieting the audience in preparation for the start of the show. I think of the overture as the illustrated jacket of a book, with a musical synopsis to pique your attention, and this one did just that.

Not only was it a treat to meet this NYGASP Pirates, but Wolf Trap is a DC-area treasure, offering a diverse season each year; and whether I'm going for a concert, a theater offering or something else, the combination of the lovely setting, a picnic supper and high-quality entertainment is a must for anyone who enjoys any one, or all, of those things!

For a look at Wolf Trap's complete 2015 season, visit For more information about the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, visit their website at

BWW Reviews: NYGASP's THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE Delightfully Invades Wolf Trap

Photos Courtesy of Wolf Trap

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From This Author Ellen Burns

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