Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Pirates! (or, Gilbert and Sullivan Plunder’d)"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Carl A. Rossi


adapted by Gordon Greenberg, Nell Benjamin and John McDaniel,
from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance”
additional book and lyrics by Nell Benjamin
musical supervision and arrangements by John McDaniel
directed by Gordon Greenberg
musical direction by F. Wade Russo
choreography by Denis Jones

The Pirate King … Steve Kazee
Samuel … Cesar Samayoa
Frederic … Anderson Davis
Ruth … Cady Huffman
Kate … Kristen Sergeant
Edith … Juilia Osborne
Jane … Sarah Ziegler
Isabel … Erica Spyres
Pippa … Brittney A. Morella
Cornelia … Krita Buccellato
Sergeant of Police … Mel Johnson, Jr.
Mabel … Farah Alvin
Major General Stanley … Ed Dixon


Wes Hart; Sam Kiernam; Douglas Lyons; Chris Messina;
Joel Perez; Michael Rossmy; Dave Schoonover;
Christopher Sergeeff; Victor J. Wisehart


Sam Kiernan; Douglas Lyons; Chris Messina; Christopher Sergeeff

Dance Captain … Chris Messina


Conductor; Keyboard … F. Wade Russo
Bass … Tony D’Amico
First Reed (clarinet, flute, piccolo) … Rod Ferland
Second Reed (flute, clarinet) … Bill Vint
Third Reed (clarinet, bass clarinet) … Bill Vint
Drums, Percussion … Doug Lippencott
Keyboard … Janet Roma

Several years ago, Boston Conservatory did a clever gender-switch in Gilbert & Sullivan’s IOLANTHE where male fairies cavorted with female, bewhiskered lords --- a gimmick that paid off, handsomely, as the opera itself was left untouched and was directed, costumed and performed in period. PIRATES!, a self-described plundering of G&S’s PIRATES OF PENZANCE is another matter, going beyond the Wilfred Leach romp that captivated Broadway in the 1980s: this comic tale about the young pirate Frederick bound to his sense of duty has been shifted from its English coastline to the Caribbean waters of Disney’s Jack Sparrow films, with additional book and lyrics by one Nell Benjamin, musical departures by one John McDaniel, and directed in the New Camp manner by one Gordon Greenberg. In Ms. Benjamin’s hands, the spurned old-maid Ruth is a jolly trollop from Square One, Mabel becomes a spunky know-it-all and the ninny-daughters develop brains in the closing moments to dole out a politically correct happy ending. Mr. McDaniel guts the Act One finale, downplays the Frederick-Mabel love story and tries to graft swaying tropical rhythms onto a Victorian score but is fortunately defeated for such show-stoppers as Act Two’s “Tarantara!” (miraculously, the ever-lovely “Hail, Poetry!” is the one number left completely intact), and Mr. Greenberg adds such anachronistic touches as Frederick shaking his booty to retain the daughters’ attention, while the Major-General opens Act Two clutching his teddybear --- there is a fine line between send-up and betrayal, and this creative team has crossed it; I stopped smiling, soon enough. Still, on the night I attended, the Huntington audience cheered PIRATES! on, number after number: with each ovation, I felt Gilbert & Sullivan being pushed further and further out into the cold for something Bigger & Better (and Longer) --- but, then, I am a Victorian gentleman, myself, and while being beguiled by Steve Kazee’s dashing rogue of a Pirate King, Anderson Davis’ winning Frederick, Ed Dixon’s adorable Major-General, six daughters correctly composed of cream, pink sugar and angel’s voices, and Denis Jones’ ever-inventive choreography, I wonder why didn’t the Huntington reach for the original opera in the first place since these particular artists are equal to the task and still could have won their kudos. PIRATES! runs on high spirits and energy rather than heart and charm as does its true inspiration, the Disney films --- it’s insistently entertaining but will surpass PIRATES OF PENZANCE no further than Elton John’s AIDA shall supplant Verdi’s masterpiece.

By the way, would you terribly mind if I start rewriting Mr. Sondheim’s lyrics? I mean, you’ve heard his words so many times, before --- you must be getting bored with them, by now. May I? Should you cry out in horror at such sacrilege, you can image a Savoyard’s outrage over the out-and-out plundering at the Huntington.

"Pirates! (or, Gilbert and Sullivan Plunder’d)" (15 May-14 June)
Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 266-0800

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide