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Festival gives lively treatment to 'Pirates'


State of the Arts


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September 06, 2012
In a welcome revival of one of Stratford's great past successes, the Festival is celebrating its 60th season with a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan's perennial hit, "The Pirates of Penzance." While it may not bear close comparison to past productions, the G&S original shines through as indestructible. True to its tradition, the festival gives this Victorian operatic spoof a lively treatment although some touches in the staging seem to miss the spirit of the Victorian spoof.


Lyricist William Gilbert's practice of skewering an occasional public figure or popular issue in his clever patter songs has given rise to updates in revivals. There is just one here but instead of a take-off it amounts to an acknowledgement that this is the Festival's 60th anniversary season. The pirate ship set also seems to miss the boat. A massive scaffold structure hung with heavy ropes that crew members slide down apparently from the cross trees to the deck is not convincing as frigate rigging.

Otherwise the merriment of the satire on Victorian values comes across delightfully in the company's expert rendition of the show's original book and music

In Pirates the title character roles, a crew of 10, are unusual examples of their trade. All orphans, they live by gentlemanly values.

It compromises their piratical trade but makes this chorus of handsome scoundrels highly appealing to the gaggle of girls who stumble onto the beachside hideout of the pirate gang.

The pirate that stands out is Kyle Blair as Frederick whose vibrant tenor highlights a first rate performance. He discovers there are prettier, younger girls than Gabrielle Jones, as Ruth his former nursemaid. Having mistakenly apprenticed him to the pirates, she has been counting on a lifetime attachment and is dismayed when through a paradoxical fluke, he announces his resignation from the crew. Her last vain effort to hang on to him is an amusing but mystifying gimmick when she rises from the sea in an old fashioned dive suit, helmet and all. Performing the role of a spurned woman a couple of decades Frederick's senior, Gabrielle Jones wins audience sympathy in her efforts but so does Blair's Frederick when his plea for a sweetheart his own age gets a response from the maiden Mabel in the gaggle of girls.

As Major General Stanley the father of the girls who does not want to lose his daughters, C. David Johnson delivers the role's famous song with the show's one fully contemporary touch, acknowledging the anniversary.

It comes off as a pale example of that tradition and brings little relief from an otherwise casual rendition of his famous self description as a model Major General.

In the colorful costume of the Pirate King, Sean Arbuckle looks the part and plays the role with style but could benefit by a little more swagger. That touch is more evident in Steve Ross' Constable Sargeant and his team of policemen as they sing and dance their constabulary number dressed in kilts. One amusing touch they bring is the surprising revelation of what those Scottish officers wear underneath.

The humor and charm of this enduring entertainment comes through even though it does not quite match the witty staging of the Festival's past productions. Yet dyed-in-the- wool G&S fans will end the evening with chuckles as they savor once again the mischievous innocence of this unique musical satire.

"The Pirates of Penzance" is presented in repertory at the Avon Theatre through Oct. 27. For reservations and more information visit stratford

shakespearefestival.com or call 800-567-l600.


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