Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Pirates of Pinzance

Schizophrenic PIRATES OF PENZANCE partly pleases at Avon Theatre

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, subtitled THE SLAVE OF DUTY, is a two-act comic operetta by Arthur Sullivan and W. S. Gilbert. It was the only one of the duos’ shows that premiered in the US.

For many years, Gilbert and Sullivan scripts were presented in the United States in pirated versions, in which the writing team received no royalties as there was no copyright protection to foreigners. Over one-hundred American acting companies produced H.M.S. PINAFORE, for which the duo received no compensation. Staging the show’s opening the show 1879 in New York protected against copyright piracy.

The slight plot concerns young Frederic, who, since he has supposedly reached his 21st year, is released from an apprenticeship to a band of tender-hearted pirates. In a series of misadventures he meets Mabel, one of the daughters of Major-General Stanley. They fall in love, but are thwarted in their romance when it is discovered that since he was born on February 29, a leap year, he is only 4 years old, not 21. He therefore, must continue his apprenticeship and can’t be with his love. Battles between the keystone cops like police, the ineffective pirates, and the Major-General’s daughters ensue. Of course, as happens in all these silly escapist plots, all is happily resolved.

The show contains some wonderful music including, Poor Wandering One, Sighing Softly to the River, Away, Away! My Heart’s on Fire, and Yes, I’ll Be Brave.

The first act is a total delight. Ethan McSweeney’s directing is spot on. The pacing is brisk, the farce nicely highlighted, the characterizations clear. Marco Santana’s choreography is enjoyable. Franklin Brasz has the orchestra enthusiastically creating the correct musical images.

For some reason, after the intermission, the air seemed to leak out of the soaring balloon. It’s like someone decided that the audience was having way too much fun, and yelled, “Slow down, lose the energy, lose the creativity.” What a shame. I wish they had called it quits after the first act while they were ahead, had the required wedding, and let the audience go home happy.

With one exception, the cast is excellent. Youthful, handsome and endearing Kyle Blaire sings, dances, and acts his way smoothly through the role of Frederick, the indentured apprentice. Sean Arbuckle, makes for a fine tender-hearted Thomas, the Pirate King. Amy Wallis is adorable and sings the role of Mabel with great appeal. Gabrielle Jones is delightful as Ruth, Frederic’s love-struck nursemaid. Only C. David Johnson, as the Major-General disappoints. His pronunciation and diction made the lyrics to the script’s musical highlight, the much parodied I Am A Model of a Modern Major-General, almost unintelligible. Thankfully, the chorus made the echo of the words clear, saving the song.

Capsule judgement: The first act of PIRATES was a total delight. Consider leaving at intermission and assume that the rest is going to live up to the wonderful first stanza. As is, the show is a generally enjoyable experience, but it could have been completely wonderful.