The Pirates of Penzance

Written on September 23rd, 2008

The Pirates of Penzance

Written by W. S. Gilbert
Composed by Arthur Sullivan
Directed by Susan Ferley
Grand Theatre High School Project
Grand Theatre, London
September 23 to October 4, 2008
Reviewed by Mary Alderson 

Sissy Pirates, Frightened Cops and a Silly Major General

Gilbert & Sullivan were masters of the comic operetta in 1870’s England. So popular were their shows, that American producers were stealing their works and putting them on stage in the United States without giving Gilbert & Sullivan any credit or paying any royalties. Thus, the writing team decided to create a show about pirates and open it in America, to send a not-so-subtle message about the piracy of their creative material.

Gilbert & Sullivan would be proud of the version now on stage nearly 130 years later at the Grand Theatre in London. In the famous song “I am the very model of a Modern Major General”, the lyrics are indeed modernized for this production. The Major General talks about text messaging and Facebook, suggesting Google Earth be used to track down weapons in Iraq. In acknowledging the internet, the modern Major General is ironically saluting the greatest of all vehicles for piracy.

But more important than any moral message is the comedy. This is the Grand’s High School Project, where a large cast and crew are brought to the professional stage straight from area secondary schools. The young people on stage have the advantage of working with a professional director, choreographer and music director, while those behind the scenes work with professional set, costume and lighting designers.

The fun begins right away, when the large family (23 to be precise) of young girls decide to “paddle” their toes in the ocean. They are all dressed beautifully in delicate creamy white gowns. But when they lift their long skits to take off their shoes, each girl is wearing different brightly coloured striped and printed stockings.

In contrast to the young ladies’ pale ivory gowns, the pirates appear dressed in vibrant colours. When the pirates and the girls mix and mingle, the effect of the costumes is stunning.

Once again, Director Susan Ferley has assembled an amazing cast of high school students and worked wonders with their talent. The young female voices together have beautiful harmony. Soloist Alexandra Smither as Mabel has an amazing voice and also demonstrates excellent comedic ability with very expressive eyes. Also possessing strong and beautiful voices are Evita Trembley as Ruth, Shauna Yarnel as Edith and Amelia Galizia as Kate.

A. J. MacDonald handles the tongue-tripping Major General’s song in astonishing fashion, and Jordan Campbell demonstrates solid acting and singing skills as Frederic. Micah Richardson is outstanding as the Pirate King, and Oscar Morena is excellent as Samuel.

The police, led by Nicholas Borg as the Sergeant, add to the hilarity. The assortment of sizes as they arrive on stage starts the laughter, and their ballet keeps the audience in stitches. Credit goes to choreographer Amy Wright for creating all the comical movement.

The use of puns and misunderstandings to create comedy has withstood the test of time. Across the audience, adults were chortling, while beside me, a 12 year old was giggling with delight. At the same time, the young actors’ friends were filling the theatre with cheers – the teenagers in the audience thoroughly enjoyed seeing the silliness on stage. Like an old Wayne & Schuster sketch, Gilbert & Sullivan are still funny.

This production is good Gilbert & Sullivan – it is not just good for being high school kids, it’s good theatre.

The Pirates of Penzance continues at the Grand Theatre in London until October 4. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

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