Monday, April 27, 2015

Pirates of Penzance

Photo by Barry Wisdom
Saving the best for last, the Sacramento Theater Company closed out its current season with a sparkling new production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” directed by Michael Laun and choreographed by Ryan Blanning, with musical direction by Samuel Clein.

I was somewhat concerned, checking the program and seeing that there did not appear to be a women’s chorus, other than the principal women and how were they going to get both a band of pirates and a bunch of policemen with only five non-principal men?

Silly me.  This show is so tightly directed and so exquisitely choreographed that the small cast was more than adequate.  The whole show moved with the precision of the Rockettes. Every move was sharp and crisp with wonderful little bits added, such as the Pirate King’s interaction with the small band, and in one spot the spectators, in unison, following an exchange between two characters with the head turns of an audience at a tennis match.

It was a dream cast.  Michael RJ Campbell was outstanding as the Pirate King, with eyes that flashed, and body language that left no doubt whatsoever that he was In Charge of things. 

Gary S. Martinez was beautifully befuddled as Major General Stanley, plagued with agony over his lie to the Pirate King to save his daughters from being carried off to the nearest Doctor of Divinity to be married.  Stanley’s “Modern Major General” may be the most famous of Gilbert & Sullivan’s patter songs and Martinez delivered it flawlessly, with impeccable diction.  And just when you are left breathless at the speed with which he spews out these lines, he speeds it up.

Zak Edwards is making his STC debut in one of his dream roles, Frederic, the apprentice pirate celebrating his 21st birthday and finally out of his indentures and able to live a blameless life.  And he is a dream in the role, with a full steady tenor and wonderful actor to boot.

Aviva Pressman is likewise making her STC debut in the role of Mabel, who captures Frederic’s heart.  Whether not so coyly enticing Frederic or militantly leading the band of policemen to attack the pirates, she is a powerhouse.

Ruth, the piratical maid of all work, is deliciously portrayed by Martha Omiyo Kight.  She is the only female face young Frederic has seen in his life and tries to convince him that she has won her way into his boyish heart (though, as she was his nursemaid when he was a baby, this has always struck me as somewhat creepy!)

The second act trio of Ruth, Frederic, and the Pirate King was great fun and, as did Joseph Papp in his modernized version of this operetta, STC opted to include the “Matter Matter” trio from “Ruddygore,” in addition to the song “Paradox” because it just fits so well.

Mabel’s sisters, Edith (Miranda D. Lawson), Kate (Katherine Cooper) and Isabel (Abbey Williams Cambell) were fun, but it is the youngest, Lucy (Courtney Shannon) who stands out by blending in so beautifully that you just want to watch her the whole time.  This role is double cast and Shannon will share the role with Meghan Greene.

Jeffrey Lloyd Heatherly is the Sergeant of Police, big and blustery and not at all enthused about going off “to glory and the grave.”

I must also give kudos to whichever of the scenic designers (Jarrod Bodensteiner, Renne Degarmo or Brian Watson) was responsible for the ever changing (but very subtly) sky.

If I have any criticism at all, and it is a very slight one, it is that I wonder if body mics were necessary.  Everyone had a big voice that easily filled the small theater, one mic malfunctioned all night long and a couple of other performers had such strong voices that the amplification was almost overpowering.

On the whole, however, this is just a superlative production.  I’ve been following Gilbert & Sullivan around the world for some 50 years and I think this ranks up there as one of the best productions of “Pirates of Penzance” that I have seen.

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