Theatre Mirror Reviews "The Pirates of Penzance"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2011 by Tony Annicone

"The Pirates of Penzance"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Fiddlehead Theatre's current production is Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance". The show was their fifth collaboration together. It is wacky, irreverent and as entertaining today as it was when it first opened in 1879. It opened in New York on December 31, 1879 but a new version opened on Broadway on January 8, 1981 and ran for 817 performances. "The Pirates of Penzance" is a hilarious farce of sentimental pirates, bumbling policeman, dim-witted lovers, dewy-eyed daughters, and their eccentric Major General father who are all morally bound to the often ridiculous dictates of honor and duty. It tells the story of a young pirate apprentice named Frederic who has come to the end of his indenture period which was done by mistake. His half-deaf nurse, Ruth, had been instructed to apprentice the boy to being a pilot not a pirate. Upon turning 21, Frederic now rejoices that he has fulfilled his duties with the band of tender-hearted orphaned pirates and is now free to return to respectable society. Alas, he was born on February 29 remaining apprenticed to the pirates. Frederic who has never seen any woman except his old nurse, stumbles upon a bevy of beautiful maidens. He casts his eye on the loveliest one of all, Mabel, and falls in love with her immediately. This production features stellar professional performers from New York, Boston and beyond. It also boasts Original Broadway costumes and a professional live orchestra in a beautiful theater. Director Margaret Fofonoff, music director, Brendon Shapiro and choreographer, Kristen Kuznezov bring this 19th century show into the 21st century with a terrific group of performers who handle the tongue twisting songs and dialogue with ease, earning them a tremendous ovation at the close of the show.

Meg directs and blocks this show with ease. She also gives them plenty of shtick to do to keep the audience in stitches all night long with the cast members clever antics. The cast also executes a couple of sword fighting sequences. Brendon taught them the intricate lyrics so you can understand each and everyone of them with gorgeous harmonies in the solos, duets, trios and group numbers. One of the loveliest harmonies occurs in heavenly maidens. Brendon also conducts a spectacular 12 piece orchestra while playing the lead keyboards. Kristen taught them the dances including spectacular dancing by the pirates, maidens and Keystone Kop policemen with twirling police batons. Michael Romero is the hard working stage manager who keeps things moving smoothly all night long. The two leads in this show are Michael S. Dunavant as Frederic and Heather Karwowski as Mabel. His strong tenor voice soars especially in "Oh, Is there not one Maiden Breast" when he first meets the daughters and in the two duets with Heather, "All is Prepared" and Stay, Frederic, Stay". Michael sings in over 17 numbers and acts as well as he sings with his comic reactions to the other characters as well as his loving expressions to Mabel and her sisters. He will be playing Matt in Fiddlehead's next show "The Fantasticks" in March. Heather is a gorgeous brunette. Her strong, magnificent, colatura soprano voice soars during all her numbers especially "Poor Wandering One" and the two duets as well as the finale where her obligatos soar off the charts. Heather is a joy to watch and listen to all evening long and has wonderful chemistry with her leading man. She is an excellent comedienne, too.

Jo Jo Karlin plays the comic pirate maid, Ruth, who lusts after Frederic. Ruth was his slightly deaf nursemaid who gave him to the pirates by mistake years ago. She is a mezzo-soprano and is hilarious as the man chasing pirate. Jo Jo shows off her voice in "When Frederic was a Lad" and in a trio with Frederic and the Pirate King. The first is "Paradox" where they do a kick line dance and "Matter" which is sung to the Major General melody with them singing faster and faster each time. She resembles Angela Lansbury in this role only Jo Jo is much younger. The mighty Pirate King is played by baritone, Samuel Perwin. He is tall, dark and handsome. Samuel commands the stage in this role and is terrific in all his scenes. He does a splendid job as the leader of these rogues and outdoes himself in the "I Am a Pirate King" number where he shows off his topnotch voice. He also does a fantastic job in the "Paradox" and "Matter" number. Samuel sings his version at warp speed.

The biggest scene stealer of this show is Ray O'Hare as the Major-General. His version of the "I am the very Model of a Modern Major-General" is perfect as he annunciates every word distinctly so you can understand every comic moment of it. The comic gem of performance comes in the second act when he sings "Sighing Softly to the River" while dancing around the stage with a stuffed animal. The cast does a grand waltz to the finale. Ray's strong baritone voice and comic timing also shine during his performance. Other comic performers include Omar Najmi as Samuel, the pirate lieutenant and as the sergeant of police. Omar is a tenor. He plays the pirate who loves parrots and has a hook for one of his hands while David Schrag, a bass-baritone, plays the head of the Keystone Cops police force. The girls most glorious harmonies occur in "Climbing over Rocky Mountain'' and "Oh dry the glistening tear" while the men's voices soar in "A Rollicking Band of Pirates We" and With Catlike Tread, upon on prey we steal''. Kudos to the topnotch cast and crew who helm this well done production of "The Pirates of Penzance". So be sure to catch this show before time runs out. It is one of the best versions of Gilbert and Sullivan that I have seen.

"The Pirates of Penzance" (9 - 18 December)
@ 619 High Street, DEDHAM MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide