Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Pirates of Penzance

The famous “Pirates of Penzance” rolled into Sacramento this past weekend, and took the town hostage. And the town loved it.

The delightful Gilbert and Sullivan classic — presented by Light Opera Theatre of Sacramento and directed by Katie Daley, with musical direction by her husband Philip Daley — will continue this weekend at the 24th Street Theater in Sacramento and then play Feb. 24-26 at the Veterans’ Memorial Theater in Davis.

There hasn’t been much Gilbert and Sullivan in Davis since the Davis Comic Opera Company ended its 30-year run. And if you have been longing to hear a good patter song or two again, this is definitely the shop for it.

This wonderful production starts with what may be the best community theater orchestra I have heard. However, Gilbert and Sullivan aficionados may find it confusing that the overture has been shortened, lopping off the first 2½ minutes and starting with the slow “Ah leave me not to pine” rather than the upbeat “With Catlike tread.” Daley points out that the omitted section is played, instead, at the end of the show, as the audience is leaving.

As the chorus of pirates enters and begins its “Pour o pour the pirate sherry,” the audience is again blown away by the rich, full sound. The female chorus is equally as impressive, and when the two combine for “Hail Poetry,” it sends chills down the spine.

The principals are all outstanding, but head and shoulders among them is Sara Haugland as Mabel, one of the wards of Major General Stanley (Michael Baad), who falls in love with the young ex-pirate Frederic (Ian Cullity).

Haughland has a bearing and a voice that shine, and her affection for her young lover is poignant in their parting song “Ah, leave me not to pine.”

Cullity is no slouch either, very earnest in his desire to fight his former comrades, and then again a slave to his sense of duty when a problem arises concerning the length of time of his indenture.

Baad has had years to perfect his Major General Stanley, and perfect it he has. When he began his famous patter song, “I am the very model of a modern major general,” I wondered how in the world he was going to do the final section, which traditionally is considerably faster than what has gone before.

He not only did it significantly faster, but his diction was crystal-clear and as near as I could tell, he didn’t drop or slur a word. That feat alone makes this production worth seeing.

This is a family affair so it’s no surprise that Chris Baad plays the Pirate King and Debbie Baad is Ruth, Frederic’s former nursemaid, now a piratical maid of all work. Both Baads are quite good, though it would have been better if Debbie had a bit more volume. However, it’s such a small thing, it hardly matters. Chris swashes a nice buckle and makes a fun pirate.

Bob Schroeder, as the Sergeant of Police, also could use a bit more oomph, but his body language as he trembles in his boots out of fear of confrontation with the pirates is great fun.

In the smaller role of Mabel’s sister, the hormone-charged Edith, Kelly Daniells is one of those actors you simply can’t take your eyes off of. She is cute as a button and sings up a storm and I kept thinking what a great Ado Annie she would make if someone wants to do a production of “Oklahoma!”

The show is presented with super titles, which not only display the song lyrics that you otherwise might not catch, but also the entire libretto, a great help for a show like this where language and word play are so crucial to the humor.

Surprisingly, there are inconsistencies between the super titles and the script. I know “Pirates” pretty well and as near as I could tell, the actors got it right and the super titles had it wrong whenever there were discrepancies.

This is a wonderful production, rich in sound, with excellent performances. The whole thing is a lot of fun. You have a first-rate opportunity to catch it at the Veterans’ Memorial Theater and I highly recommend it.

And if you’re a real die-hard, do what about a quarter of the Sacramento audience did — come wearing your very own pirate costume. They say that the production is rated “arrrgh.”

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