Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, June 2001
It is beyond me how anyone could not have a wonderful time and be thoroughly entertained by the Weston Playhouse production of The Pirates of Penzance, and yet I know that there are Gilbert and Sullivan purists out there who still deplore, 20 years later, what they call the “Papp-ing” of this show. If you are one of those people who only like to see Gilbert’s original 1879 staging preserved in formaldehyde – don’t go. But if you want a really fun show that you can take the whole family to, order tickets NOW. The matinee Brandon and I attended on June 30 was pretty much sold out, and Weston has given this show a woefully short two-week run.
On the way to the theatre, Brandon asked me to explain the plot of Pirates, which I did, and realized once again that there is no sillier show in the G&S canon. So I won’t try to explain the plot to you here. As they sing in the interpolated patter song from Ruddigore in Act II, it really doesn’t matter, matter, matter, matter, matter!
This show looks great, sounds great, and keeps you laughing along with the nonsensical plot from beginning to end. Director Malcolm Ewan has obviously spent some time with the 1983 film of Pirates, made by the team that staged the 1979 Broadway production starring Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt, and Rex Smith, but he and designers Howard Jones (sets) and Martha Haley and Meggan Camp (costumes) have come up with their own little piece of Victorian silliness set on a jewel-box stage with the Weston stage.
David Bonanno swashes every buckle in sight as the Pirate King and really sets and maintains the tone of this production, ably assisted by Peter Kevorian’s thoroughly silly performance as Major-General Stanley, and Grahame Renyk’s interesting turn as Samuel, the Pirate Lieutenant, a character seldom brought to the fore (although he has always had some great stuff to sing). I am afraid that I was not able to enjoy Jim Weaver as Edward, Chief of Police, because he had so obviously sat in front of his TV/VCR playing and replaying the performance of the inimitable Tony Azito in the film over and over again until he was able to do a passable impression of it – right down to trying to mimic Azito’s horribly nasal singing voice, the one part of Azito’s performance best left forgotten! Weaver was very good, but he was not Tony Azito and, for me, watching him attempt Azito’s moves was just a painful reminder of a talent taken from us too early.
I could quibble just a little with Shane Carty as Frederic and Melissa Spevacek as Mabel not being able to hit all their high notes, but what are a few high C’s compared with an enjoyable and convincing overall performance? And maybe Kevoian was a tad to precious as Major-General Stanley. After seeing Stephen Temperley’s feeble attempt at Sir Joseph in H.M. S. Pinafore last week at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, I was glad to see a performer really sink his teeth into a G&S character role.
I cringed when I first heard the “reduced orchestration” of Eric Svejcar in the abbreviated overture. Mind you, I do not require a 100-piece symphony orchestra to enjoy my Gilbert & Sullivan. The “orchestra” at the Light Opera of Manhattan (LOOM), where I saw all 13 extant operettas in my youth, consisted of one guy who played vigorously on a 1970’s era keyboard while using a series of foot pedals to play the drums. I think that is about the same equipment Svejcar was using, only hopefully he had an up-to-date keyboard at his disposal, and so I knew that it could sound a LOT better. And once it was drowned out by the voices, it did.
The Pirates of Penzance runs through July 7 at the Weston Playhouse (802-824-5288), on Rt. 100 in Weston, VT. The show runs two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission. It is suitable for all ages.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2001