Playful, modernized romp

Larry Cahn (as Major-General Stanley) and others in the cast of "The Pirates of Penzance," a romp that touches all sorts of satirical bases at Bristol Riverside Theatre.
Larry Cahn (as Major-General Stanley) and others in the cast of "The Pirates of Penzance," a romp that touches all sorts of satirical bases at Bristol Riverside Theatre.
Posted: March 24, 2013

Emboldened by the London success of their HMS Pinafore but outraged at the rogue American productions that robbed them of royalties, Gilbert & Sullivan opened Pirates of Penzance in 1879 in New York to secure the U.S. copyright. Good thing, too, as it was another hit, skewering so many targets that it's best not to ask what pirates, virginal Victorian maidens, and mustachioed London police are doing in the same operetta.

So all that the new Bristol Riverside Theatre production asks is that you sit back and enjoy the romp while it touches all sorts of satirical bases in one of the company's big-cast, big-budget productions of the season.

The trim, two-hour running time had dialogue cut and modernized, an added song from Ruddigore, and orchestrations with modern guitar in this adaptation by director Keith Baker. Also, some undercurrents - the pirates said to be a commentary on the long-ago intellectual-property thieves who profited from Pinafore - aren't detectable.

The key to the production's priorities lies in Julia C. Lee's set design: The show's score is enlarged and printed sideways on a rear drop. Despite the precedent of the 1981 Broadway Pirates with pop singers such as Linda Ronstadt and Maureen McGovern, Bristol Riverside maintained the score's satire of grand opera with the legitimate voices to do so.

Theatrically, the cast gave a playful reality to the story of young Frederic (vocally virtuosic Patrick Dunn) escaping the pirates who raised him and finding true love with Mabel (captivating coloratura soprano Maria Failla) - no mugging or winking. The program even contained a glossary of terms detailing now-obscure references in the lyrics. That's not to suggest that there weren't some fun modern touches: Dunn's lapse into his Elvis voice during a seductive moment (specifically "Are You Lonesome Tonight?") was exactly the right spirit.

April Woodall gave such presence to pirate mascot Ruth that you were sorry for her romantic rejection on the basis of age. Nick Cordero was as statuesque and vocally commanding as any Pirate King could be. As Major-General Stanley, Larry Cahn didn't have a great night Thursday: Though charming, his patter song was strangely inarticulate.

With that, plus the under-rehearsed 12-piece orchestra and overanimated pirate chorus, I'm not sure how competitive this show might be in Center City Philadelphia. But the total package - the theater's scenic riverside setting on a quaint Victorian street - is seriously attractive.


Contact David Patrick Stearns at dstearns@phillynews.com.

|
|
|
|
|