Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Pirates of Penzance"

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

entire contents copyright 1997 by "Angel"

Gilbert and Sullivan's

The Pirates of Penzance

or The Slave of Duty

by the Boston Academy of Music
at Emerson Majestic Theatre, Boston, MA

Cast of Characters

Major General Stanley - Mr. Richard Conrad
Richard, The Pirate King - Mr. David Stoneman
Samuel, his lieutenant - Mr. Charles Baad
Frederic, a pirate apprentice - Mr. Robert Towne
Ruth, a pirate maid-of-all-work - Miss Anna Maria Silvestri (Debut)
Edward, Sergeant of Police - Mr. Eric Sosman

Major General Stanley's Wards
Mabel - Miss Michelle French
Edith - Miss Roberta Janelle
Kate - Miss Jeanie Theoharris
Isabel - Miss Debra Rentz (Debut)
Violet - Miss Elizabeth Pizzi
Hermione - Miss Laurie Lemley
Penelope - Miss June Kfoury
Sybil - Miss Letitia Hafner
Heliotrope - Miss Laura Bewig
Maud - Miss Deborah Coleman
Abigail - Miss Andrea Baad
Rose - Miss Laura Kohout (Debut)

Reginald - Mr. Richard Simpson (Debut)
Mortimer - Mr. David Jarratt
Phineas - TBA (but it wasn't)
Jeremy - Mr. John R. Murelle
Rutland - Mr. Douglas Schneider (Debut)
Neville - Mr. Daniel Orama (Debut)
Archibald - Mr. John Whittlesey
Hubert - Mr. Edward Walker (Debut)
Cecil - Mr. John Clarke
Rupert - Mr. Eric Sosman
Percy - Mr. Eric Jordan

Tom - Mr. John Murelle
Billy - Mr. Edward Walker
Bob - Mr. John Clarke
Ben - Mr. Douglas Schneider
Dick - Mr.. Eric Jordan
Charley - Mr. John Whittlesley

Production Staff

Artistic Director - Mr. Richard Conrad
Conductor - Mr. Ronald Knudsen
Stage Director - Mr. Thomson Smillie
Scenic Designer - Mr. David Fortuna
Costume Designer - Mrs. Helen H. Friedman
Costume Coordinator - Mr. Richard Conrad
Repetiteur - Ms. Jill Copeland
Musical Preparation - Mr. Richard Conrad, Ms. Jill Copeland
Lighting Designer - Mr. Christopher Ostrom (Debut)
Production Stage Manager - Miss Shona Mitchell (Debut)
Technical Director - Mr. David Reed (Debut)
Assistant Stage Manager - Mr. Stephen Evans
Company Photographer - Mr. Clive Grainger
Producer - Ms. Carole Charnow

- The Pirates of Penzance -

or The Slave of Duty

Boston Academy of Music, presents the Gilbert and Sullivan opera, The Pirates of Penzance at the Emerson Majestic Theatre November 28-30. The show is not a musical, yet it is great fun in its lighthearted wittiness. It doesn't take itself too seriously, in fact, not seriously at all. It has a strong comedic flair which becomes slapstick at times. This is in sharp contrast to the heavy formalization of the orchestral scoring and the vocal arrangements which are incredibly strong and some of which are very memorable though not particularly understandable due to the operatic nature of it.

The sarcasm of the show may yield viewers who either love it and appreciate the comedic humor or ones who disdain the shallowness. This show intentionally breaks all the rules with Gilbert and Sullivan pointing fun at the inept "pirates" who were using their material, specifically the widespread "HMS Pinafore", free of charge due to nonexistent international copyright laws. The dialogue is outlandishly clever and the rhyme schemes and lyrics are practically rococo. The action is sometimes reminiscent of British comedy group, Monty Python.

Plot Paragraph
Due to a misunderstanding, Frederic's nurse-maid, Ruth, has indentured him to a life of piracy until his 21st birthday. Frederic intends to exterminate the inept pirates as soon as he is free and is overjoyed about turning twenty-one. His nurse-maid is smitten for him, but having never seen other women he is uncertain and resists. A large group of women, wards of the Major General, enter and immediately enchant him, but he manages to offend all save one named Mabel. When the pirates enter and threaten to marry all the maidens, the Major General plays upon their simple sympathies by claiming to be an orphan as they are, so they let the maidens go. Frederic, who has been released, sets the nervous police upon them, only to be informed by Ruth and the Pirate King that since he was born on Feb. 29 of a Leap Year, he has only had five actual birthdays and his indenture is far from over. He rejoins the pirates since he is a slave to duty and tells the pirates to expect the police. The police attack is easily overcome, but the police sergeant demands they be let go in Queen Victoria's name. They are let go, but Ruth explains that they are all just noblemen who have gone wrong and thus they are pardoned and allowed to marry the Major General's daughters.

Robert Towne plays reluctant pirate Frederic dramatically and yet without the silliness that shows so clearly in his shipmates. He adequately carried the melodic structure of his parts. Anna Maria Silvestri is outstanding as Ruth, who only desires to be loved, but knows she may pale in comparison to other women. She has incredible vocal power and flair and matches The Pirate King (Stoneman) well, especially in their duet of "Paradox" sung to Frederic (Towne) who almost disappears into the background in their flamboyance and vocal power.

Michelle French as Mabel has incredible vocal range, carrying out Sullivan's wildest vocal dreams with her clarity even at the top of the soprano range. She and Towne make a good pair and harmonize well together as she promises her faithfulness to Frederic during his unexpectedly long indenture.

David Stoneman is very impressive as Richard, The Pirate King, performing the part with enthusiasm and charm. He cunningly gives depth to his performance with an enormous amount of cleverly used exaggeration. Charles Baad does a good job as Samuel, the Pirate King's lieutenant, flipping onto the stage first with acrobatics typical of the freewheeling clownish behavior of these zany Pirates of Penzance.

Richard Conrad does a good performance as Major General Stanley, as well as being the show's artistic director, costume coordinator, and in charge of musical preparation. (Whew!) Conrad has come a long way since his vocal injury in the early 80s. Conrad certainly looks the part of the Major General both in his uniform and even in his nightshirt holding a teddybear. He did a fairly good job presenting "Modern Major General", delivering all the words in very rapid tempo, with the proper humor, but had difficulty making the many multi-syllabic words clear at that speed.

A huge skull and crossbones of light appears midway through the overture on the still unopened curtain and provides a good effect. The lighting was particularly effective at highlighting whoever was singing and light changes were smooth and nearly unnoticeable. The show begins with a tiny cartoonlike ship moving jerkily across the back of the stage followed by a slightly larger version of the same moving across the other way seemingly moving closer, and then finally the set pieces are dropped onto the stage in full view of the audience, presumably with the intended effect of humor. The two sets, one of a rocky seashore with the section of the pirate ship in the background and the other of a ruined gothic chapel, are minimalist and rather nonprofessional, though perhaps that is the point.

The actors perform this show well, but keep in mind that this is not a serious opera, but a satirical parody of one. If you go to this show, enjoy it and take it lightly - and most definitely not as seriously as reviewers.




entire contents 1997 by Angel and Patrick

Pirates of Penzance Home page

Libretto of the Opera

"Pirates of Penzance" (till 30 November)
Emerson Majestic Theatre, 219 Tremont Street, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide