The Pirates of Penzance
by Gilbert and Sullivan
Directed by Terrence Mann
at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre
Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre on the campus of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, through July 22
Avast, ye land-lubbers and scurvy dogs alike! Ye best be weighing anchor and setting sails for yonder Connecticut Repertory Theater for a delightful production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. Artistic Director Vincent J. Cardinal be saving the best for last this Nutmeg Summer Series on the campus of the University of Connecticut. If ye be looking for a good time instead of an entertainment keel-hauling, you should head over the bounding main to Storrs.
The captain of this particularly sea-worthy vessel be director Terrence Mann. Mainly known for being a musical-theatre st-ARRRRRR, Mann shows a steady hand at the rudder of this 1879 classic. He adds a tidal wave of Monty Python madness to Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta. While remaining true to the piece’s veddy British appeal, Mann adds a dash wacky humor, his Cats’ character Rum-Tum-Tugger’s physicality (and rum), and the naughty abandon of his Rocky Horror Show Frank-N-Furter. As a result, CRT’s production be a veritable Treasure Island of buxom beauties, pirate gold and a toe-tapping constabulary.
The plot of The Pirates of Penzance be a fairly silly affair. The orphan Frederic, under the watchful eye of his governess Ruth, has been raised by a group of pirates. Upon his 21st birthday, he be freed from his apprenticeship and he detaches himself from this ineffectual passel of ne’er-do-wells, led by a dashing rake, the Pirate King. Pledging himself to the elimination of all pirate scum, Frederic sets out to become a good man.
Frederic stumbles upon a bevy of babes, the daughters of the proper Major-General. He becomes enamored with the stunning Mabel and sets his sights on marrying her. The Pirate King and Ruth return with the announcement that Frederic is still indentured to the pirates and our young hero must decide between love and his duty to the scoundrels that raised him. Oh, and there are tap-dancing Keystone Kops.
As Frederic, Ryan N. Phillips be a handsome and well-sung male lead. He be sporting a fine voice and is capable of making the ladies weak in the knees. His Mabel, portrayed by Diane Phelan, be having a superlative voice that be well-suited to operetta. With a dash of sass and a treasure chest of charm, Phelan delights in the role. Broadway star Sean Martin Hingston be a physical marvel as the Pirate King. The mizzen mast of the production, Hingston leaps, taps, pirouettes, poses and preens as the jolliest of Jolly Rogers.
Piratical stand-outs include the funny John Bixler and the bodacious Lynn McNutt as Ruth the governess-turned-piratess. Steven Hayes steals the show (no small feat with a band of pirates about) as the Major-General. His showstopping turn in the justly famous “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” leaves Hayes red in the face and the audience breathless wondering if he will survive the tongue-twisting number.
The pirate/police ensemble be a fine and motley assortment of singers and dancers under the watchful eye of talented choreographer Cassie Abate. The gaggle of giggling girls, daughters of the Major-General, be similarly wonderful and left the audience on the poop deck pooped with applause.
One of the pleasures of a critic (a job that would make anyone shiver their timbers) be finding exciting new talent and this production ships off with two privateers ready to walk the plank to stardom. As the limber-limbed and lanky Sergeant of Police, young Alex Gibson sports a stiff upper lip, a basso profundo and a terrific time-step. In the part of Kate, Molly Evans proves to be a pint-sized Patti LuPone. Don’t let her diminutive stature fool ye, she be hiding a fantastic voice and comic presence.
With but a short week until this ship sets sail, ye must be shaking a peg leg and getting up to Storrs before this gem of a production be headed to Davy Jones’ locker. YARRRRR!