What a joy it is to see The Pirates of Penzance wonderfully performed again. The Gilbert and Sullivan Society launches the tenderhearted marauders of the sea. Afloat again, the pirates and their king, the maidens, the policemen, the Modern Major General (Dave Ross) exaggerate, flaunt hyperbolic emoting, and trick each other mercilessly.
It opens with the pirates drinking and congratulating Frederic (Derek Sellers) on the end of his indenture to the pirates. As a young lad of eight and at the command of his parents, his nursemaid is told to apprentice the boy as a pilot. Ruth (Erin Wise, the best looking Ruth I’ve ever seen and she looks much too young) misunderstood and apprenticed him as a pirate. (The British make fun of their own language and dialects.) Rather than face his parents, she went to sea with him.
"And that is how you fine me now, a member of your shy lot,
Which you wouldn't have found, had he been bound apprentice to a pilot."
The Pirate King (an impressive Brian Pucheu) enters and sings his theme song: I Am a Pirate King with great gusto and swanning about. The song is well choreographed with lots of physical humor. He congratulates Frederic as well but Frederic announces that since his apprenticeship is up, he’s going to join the anti-piracy campaign and rid the scourges from the earth. The band acknowledge that he gets to decide and bid him and Ruth (the pirates don’t want her) good bye. The king says, “… I don’t think much of our profession, but, contrasted with respectability, it is comparatively honest.”
One of the best visual jokes is Frederic “rowing” a boat to another cove on the Cornwall coast. It‘s a row boat with wheels that filament front and back propels the boat in either direction. In this case it slowly propels them to the shore.
He asks Ruth, “Ruth, tell me candidly and without reserve: compared with other women . . . are you beautiful?” Ruth, bashfully: “I have been told so, dear master.” “Ah, but lately?” “Oh, no: years and years ago.” As he hears voices, he climbs the rocks to see who’s coming. He spys a bevy of beautiful young women, “How lovely, how surpassingly lovely is the plainest of them!” Frederic tells her to go and she rows away, this time the row boat whips off the stage in the other direction.
Of course Frederic is in heaven with the beauties around him. Then the last sister comes, Mabel (Shelly Traverse, in beautiful voice). Well, of course, Frederic falls in love. She and her sisters, especially Edith (Breanna Hanson) and Kate (Sheila Houlahan), voice their approval of his beauty and pity for his tale. Mabel sings her beautiful “Poor Wandering One.”
The pirates come over the hill and see the beauties and sing that they will marry as the girls are expressing their fondest hope of marriage as well: “Here’s a first rate opportunity to get married with impunity…)
Ultimately, the girls are joined by their father the Major General (the incomparable Dave Ross), who sings his patter song. The pirates are suitably impressed and are prepared to take the girls and kill the Major General. He’s heard of this gang before and knows they are too tender-hearted to pillage or kill an orphan. He deviously claims to be an orphan and they sadly retreat.
The women’s costumes by Candace Frank are beautiful. Mostly I’ve seen them in fussy dresses and bonnets (this is set in the Victorian era) or dimity nightgown looking garb as in the “Pirates” movie with Linda Ronstat. This time they all wear colorful, fairly plain dresses with trim matching coats and straw boaters.
The pirates are suitably garbed in stripes, bandanas, boots and swords. One pirate Ryan Glascock is dressed in a brown and black horizontally striped and jagged pants. What I enjoyed about him was his hair. It looked like a half grown out Mohawk and his beard was substantial, too. (I told him in the lobby afterwards that I really liked his look. He reminded me of my son when he was younger.)
The pirate king, of course, is in a Disney-esque scarlet Captain Hook coat and high boots (no parrot though) and waves a plumed hat effectively. The policemen who come to capture the pirates are all garbed in dark blue suits with Bobby hats and truncheons, dull compared to the pirates and the Major General in his scarlet uniform and the bevy of beauties.
The singing is superb. I must mention the pirate lieutenant Samuel “Micheal O’Hara” and his beautiful voice. As well, I loved the baritone of Michael Drumheller as the police sergeant.
Gary Webberly’s sets were simple and easy for the actors to break down for the next scene. After the cove, they rolled out the rocks and rolled in the ruins of a former chapel by moonlight. This is where the major general laments his lie about being an orphan and policemen hide in wait for the pirates arrive. Again I loved the rowboat and the slow row out and the zippy, no oars used return to the wing.
Pirates is playing at the Seattle Rep, Bagley Wright Theatre through July 26, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 and Sunday performances at 2 p.m. For tickets, go to the website www.pattersong.org and follow the link to buy tickets, or go directly to the ticket buying website.