by: Paulanne Simmons
The Pirates of Penzance may be America’s best loved and most frequently performed Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera. In fact, the show opened in December 1879, four months before its London debut. Since then it has been performed innumerable times, both traditionally and with major innovations. In1980, the Public Theater production, which premiered at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, turned the show into more of a musical comedy.
New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ production, currently at Symphony Space, directed and conducted by Albert Bergeret, is a delightfully traditional production. The two marvelous sets depict first nature in all its beauty, then the Stanley castle, which the Major-General has recently purchased. The music is played by a small but effective orchestra seated onstage. And the costumes are elaborate reproductions of what any self-respecting pirate, or gentleman or gentlewoman might wear in times gone by.
The acting and singing in the Dec. 27 production (casts vary) was impeccable, with Daniel Greenwood as the overly dutiful Frederic, Sarah Caldwell as his great love, Mabel, James Mills as the pompous but lovable Major-General Stanley and Angela Christine Smith as Frederic’s hapless nurse, Ruth.
David Macalusa was extremely effective in the supporting role of Samuel, the Pirate King’s lieutenant. And of course there were all those wonderful choruses of the pirates, the young maidens and the policemen.
Bergeret has given the production plenty of slapstick and sight gags (the major general walks onstage with bedroom slippers sporting the design of the British flag). There are also all those obligatory references to current events making this show forever relevant.
For all those who have not yet seen The Pirates of Penzance, this is a great time to correct such a mistake. For those who have seen it (even many times), this is one more opportunity to again enjoy the Major-General executing his famous tongue twisters, the policemen buoying up their spirits as they sing “When a Felon’s Not Engaged in His Employment” or the pirates looking for a doctor of divinity who resides in the vicinity.
The Pirates of Penzance, at Peter Norton Symphony Space, 2535 Broadway at 95th Street, until Jan. 5, 2014