Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Pirates of Penzance"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Beverly Creasey

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Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

I'm in heaven: There are two delicious productions of" The Pirates of Penzance" playing simultaneously --- which might spell disaster for a play, but not for a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. It's a chance to see two delightfully different approaches to the raucous revelry that is G&S. Luckily both are plenty adorable.

Aside from some S&M (to punch up the show's subtitle "The Slave of Duty") the Publick Theatre's outdoor production is on the whole very traditional. Director Jessica Kubzansky serves up a clever and fiercely intelligent "Pirates" with lots of inventive folderol.

Boston's Savoyard king, Bob Jolly, holds court as the quintessential modern Major General, complete with a rapid race with the orchestra. (The night I went Jolly proudly beat Musical Director Jonathan Goldberg to the finish line.) Jolly is always respectful of the text, even when he's departing from it.

To heck with that subtitle, pleasure is what's foremost in Kubzansky's production, despite the ominous presence of "Duty" as a masked intruder. And the pleasures abound: Brent Reno has all the dash and charisma of Erroll Flynn, and he can climb a tree!, can charm the birds out of it, and can make us hysterical when he staggers like a (well) drunken sailor at the sight of the Major Gen'l's nubile daughters.

Khori Dastoor is a spunky, golden voiced Mabel, who thinks twice when she's asked to wait fifty years to get married. Dastoor is ably assisted by Kristen Palson, Alexandra DeSuze, and a bevy of beauties who cavort in comic precision to Kirsten McKenney's ingenious choreography. Sarah DeLima has a field day as Ruth, emerging at one point as a platinum blonde in a feeble attempt to compensate for her "remains".

Bill Gardiner and his sentimental cut-throats do make piracy pay with an exquisite "Hail, Poetry" that's accompanied by an actual hail of poetry! Jon Blackstone gets laughs galore as the reluctant Police Sergeant, making his "When a Felon" one of the show's highlights.

Nicole Sachott's costumes are sensational, from the miniature straw bonnets perched on cascading tresses to the scrambled eggs on the Major Gen'l's nightie.

* * *
The Turtle Lane "Pirates" on the other hand is a mad free-for-all. Director Paul Farwell has given everyone permission to go hog wild. So we're treated to daffy pirates with secret handshakes who are practically suicidal --- like Chuck Walsh who obliterates his parrot in a frenzy of pity --- in the sad, sad "Orphan Boy" song, and to a wacky Major Gen'l who punctuates his sentences with audible commas and semi-colons a la Victor Borge and struts like John Cleese's Minister of Silly Walks, and who prances like a bloomin' Nureyev in the "Sighing Softly: number. (This is a bravura performance for Jim Jordan, looking like a giraffe in Richard Itczak's dotty military garb.

Director Paul Farwell ought to be knighted by Queen Victoria for the marvelous mayhem. He borrows much of the good stuff from the famous Wilfred Leach production with Kevin Kline (on stage and film; rent it if you haven't yet seen it!) and then he brilliantly sends up "Les Miz"!

James Tallach is a handsome Pirate King --- with that mustache he's a dead ringer for Tim Curry; Susan Walsh is a zany Ruth; but the big surprises were the two understudies for the romantic leads on the night I went. Gary Ryan and Bree Grieg look exactly like the teenage innocents they're supposed to be, giving the show a wonderful ring of authenticity --- and it doesn't hurt that they sing gorgeously too.

Don L. Dion's breathtaking moon, luminously lit by Joanne Savage, is reason enough to go ... your sides will ache from laughing, but you won't mind it a bit.

19 July - 12 August
"The Pirates of Penzance"
Christian Herter Park, CAMBRIDGE, MA
1 (617) 782-5425
13 July - 19 August
"The Pirates of Penzance"
283 Melrose Street, NEWTON, MA
1 (617) 244-0169

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide