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A CurtainUp Review
The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty
By Elyse Sommer
Marc Kudisch and Mark Jacoby bring Broadway pizazz to this production, Kudisch as a dashing and devilishly funny Pirate King, Jacoby as a delightfully pompous patter singing Major-General Stanley (his rendition of the operetta's signature "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" couldn't be better). The rest of the cast is from the opera world and, like Kudisch and Jacoby, they seem to be having a grand time, especially Sarah Jane McMahon who plays the romantic lead. She not only brings a rich soprano, pretty face and good figure to the role of Mabel but at one point exits the stage with a double somersault. Matt Morgan as Frederic, the young indentured pirate and object of Mabel's affection, is not as uninhibited and relaxed, but he's got the right hero looks and has a wonderful tenor voice. Overall, the Broadway plus opera world casting mix is definitely cause for rephrasing Rudyard Kipling's famous "never the twain shall meet" line to "ever the twain shall meet."
Perhaps to add enough fun to keep the many grade school aged kids in the audience from being disappointed that they'll be watching less swordplay than romantic wooing, director Lillian Groag and set designer John Conklin, have married Gilbert & Sullivan to over-sized satirical Victorian cutouts that channel the humor of Lewis Caroll and the Monty Python group. These cardboard images include the Titanic and among other literary and historical figures, an eye-patch sporting Alice and Queen Victoria. The Queen also appears several times as a real character (Fran Barnes).
Ms. Groag may also have felt, as so many directors of the Shakespeare canon do, that a new production needs a a new twist. In any event, though her anachronistic add-ons didn't keep the age six to ten kids around me from being restless and (dare I say it? — a bit bored), most of the adults, including me, bought into her comic vision since the concept did not diddle with the basic plot and, most importantly, the libretto and music.
While the Victorian themes can't be said to have cutting edge relevancy, the brilliant operatic parodies are indeed timeless. A big round of applause is also warranted for the chorus and orchestra (led by Gerald Steichen); also for Jess Goldstein's costumes and Lynne Hockney's choreography which make this Pirates a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.
For a really different Pirates, you might want to check yout the return engagment of Al Grand's Yiddish version. For details see our Off- Broadway Listings.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide