"We’re not doing the Joseph Papp Broadway version," producer Steve Isaacson assured me, when he announced the 2007-2008 season. That’s a good thing. DMTC has produced a quite nice, quite respectable, and mostly delightful rendition of Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1880 classic.
Musically, "The Pirates of Penzance" is a parody of serious opera. Parts of the score are direct spoofs of "Il Trovatore" and "La Traviata." It offers witty dialogue, a twisting plot and clever lyrics. What’s not to like?
Gil Sebastian’s direction is strictly traditional, with a few little touches that make it uniquely his own (such as the serving of tea during crucial moments).
Frederick, a young man erroneously apprenticed at age 8 to a band of pirates is hoping to reach his 21st birthday so he can devote himself to exterminating his former comrades. The complicated plot moves very quickly and covers a wide range of topics, such as the value of being an orphan, the meaning of true love and the importance of duty.
Travis Nagler, a "Little Abner"-esque Frederick is the one weak link in an otherwise strong cast. While Nagler (who also acted as Master Carpenter for the set) sings well in his lower register, the part is too high and forces him to use a falsetto voice that too often cracks as he strains to hit the notes.
Lenore Sebastian, the hard of hearing nursemaid who mistook "pirate" for "pilot" turns in a funny performance as the piratical maid of all work. She is particularly good in Act 2, discarding her "upstairs maid" costume for more suitable pirate attire. Her beautiful contralto shines in her Act 1 duet with Frederick, "Oh, false one, you have deceived me."
As the Pirate King, Brian McCann is swash-bucklingly delightful. McCann is the perfect comic pirate, at the same time menacing and soft-hearted. The tempo of his "I am a Pirate King" was a bit plodding and I feared for the rest of the show, but tempos picked up as the women came on stage for "Climbing Over Rocky Mountains"
Dan Clanton is his second in command, Samuel, good at handing out a crowbar or a center bit.
What can be said about Allyson Paris, as Mabel, the daughter of Major General Stanley, who is charmed by the young Frederick? Her performance is a gem. Her coloratura parody of Italian opera ("Poor wand’ring one") was delicious.
Rhiannon Guevin was a captivating Edith, with a strong soprano and a twinkle in her eye. Elsbeth Poe and Katie Baad are her Edith’s sisters, Kate and Isabel, respectively, and also give good performances.
Major General Stanley enters toward the end of the first Act, just in time to save his daughters from a fate worse than death (marriage to pirates) and to sing his signature "Modern Major General." Fearn’s diction is impeccable and his characterization very funny. (I particularly liked his Act 2 bathrobe, complete with epaulets - nice touch by costumer Jeanne Henderson.)
No production of "Pirates of Penzance" would be complete without a bumbling band of Bobbies, the police crew enlisted to bring the pirates to their knees. Jonathan Cagle-Mulberg, Scott Griffith, Scott Sablan, Marc Valdez, Arthur Vassar and John VanWart fill the bill, trembling in their boots at the thought of confronting the vicious pirates. Richard Spierto heads up the group as the Sergeant of Police, who tells the plaintive tale about how "a policeman’s lot is not a happy one."
Steve Isaacson is credited with musical direction and gives us some incredibly beautiful choral moments, especially the lovely "Hail, Poetry," and the hauntingly beautiful, "Oh, dry the glist’ning tear."
Director Sebastian also designed the set, which is utilitarian, but, in the first act, does a nice job of suggesting the rocky coast of Cornwall, and, in the second, the graveyard of Maj. Gen. Stanley’s estate.
There's a reason The Pirates of Penzance has been performed virtually non-stop since its premiere: it's so much fun. We humans like to laugh at the foibles of others, and see the pompous brought down a notch or two, when done with humor.
DMTC’s production does Messers Gilbert & Sullivan proud.