Despite Gilbert and Sullivan's profound influence on the development of musical theater and satirization of politics, the two always seem to be regarded in the same genre as Shakespeare: to be avoided at all costs. But never fear—P M and L’s Season 58 concluding production, the comic operetta “Pirates of Penzance” has been updated and made even more fun under Mark Audrain’s well-paced direction.
“Pirates of Penzance,” probably the most famed of all Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, has enjoyed a Broadway run, a West End run, a Kevin Kline film, and even an all male 2019 production. Set during the reign of Queen Victoria in Cornwall, England, the P M and L production has a modestly minimalist and simple set by WOW construction; costumes by Trish Jansta and Jessica Augustine range from sneakers and cargo shorts to full military regalia.
But It’s Wonder Lake resident Chris Plotts' lighting design and projections and Audrain’s tongue in cheek additions (everything from a running autograph gag to scene stealing three year old pirate Avery Carlson) that cleverly strengthen this production. And under Paul Bleadlow’s direction, that live five piece orchestra seated high up in the balcony is incandescent.
The cast of 24 seems to be having a lot of fun up on that small stage, and so does the audience as we follow the travails of pirate apprentice Frederic, delightfully and innocently played and sung by Liam Bell.
He plans to mark his 21st birthday by leaving the Pirate King, a marvelous character brought to life and attractiveness by the engaging Nic Cicerale, and his merry band of tender-hearted orphaned pirates. (Audrain accurately says to think of them as “the pirates of Door County”).
Of course, in doing so, Frederic must also bid farewell to his nursemaid Ruth, a beyond superb actress named Christen Marie Dominguez. Frederic does meet Mabel, a lovely Annika Churchill, who is one of the many wards of the Major General, expertly portrayed by Ari Cohen (and yes, he does quite well thank you, on “I am the very model of a very modern Major-General”).
There are also members of the hard working and charming supporting cast who stand out: John Carlson is a wonderful Samuel, sidekick to the Pirate King; Faith Reidinger is a Goth scene stealer in the Ladies Ensemble; soprano Abigail Shreveport’s Edith is definite Gilbert and Sullivan material, and Randy Madison is the not to be ignored, very tall and majestic Sergeant of the Police.
There are many sparkling songs in this operetta, but none so delicious as the duet between Frederic and Ruth (“Oh, false one you have deceived me”), and the Ruth, Frederic, Pirate King trio singing of “when you left our pirate fold”. There’s also a silly but entertaining version of the Sergeant and Police’s “When a felon’s not engaged in his employment”.
Yet one glaring problem with this happily ever after production exists; despite three hanging mics, many characters can not be heard or understood in their songs, particularly the lasses and the Sergeant. Fortunately, the words are projected on an overhead screen; as with any operetta, the songs are vitally necessary to move along the plot.
Do set sail for P M and L’s joyful and refreshingly entertaining “Pirates of Penzance” and discover why this treasure continues to enjoy success worldwide with critics and audience alike.
• Regina Belt-Daniels continues to do what she loves best: teach, travel, theater, and write reviews. A veteran actress and director of more than 50 plays, she appears as Senator Karen Spelosi in the soon to be released Mike Preston film “Citizen Dick”. A retired District 47 educator, she currently serves on the Boards of RCLPC Theater and It’s Showtime Huntley.
If you Go
Pirates of Penzance
Through August 10
Two acts with one intermission
P M & L Theater
877 Main St. Antioch
Tickets: $18 adults, $15 Students/seniors