Gilbert & Sullivan must be rolling in their graves with hysterical laughter thanks to STAGEright Theatre’s current production The Pirates of Penzance! My own response was no less dramatic. The spell weaved by the cast; crew and director of this raucous parody of a sarcastic satire moved me to silence and stillness. Enraptured in a cacophony of G&S music, pop culture references (and appropriated snippets of pop songs), over the top physical humor, brilliant actor “business” and more, all I could do was sit, watch and grin like an idiot.
For those of you who have never seen a G&S production (like me until last night) don’t expect much from the libretto, or plot for that matter. The lyrics are cute but silly, and the plot absurd. As for the music, it is pretty, and parts are down right beautiful, but its number of superfluous notes make Mozart's busiest concertos look conservative. During the lifetimes of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan the show’s commentary had some serious bite, but as much as the G&S Society would like us to believe, that dog lost its teeth long ago; at least until last night. Director, Brendan Mack took this classic and in the spirit of its creators turned the traditions on its head. As Bob Fosse did with the musical Cabaret when he directed the film, Brendan Mack "destroyed it to save it."
Drawing from dozens of pop culture references, and parodying of pretentiousness in our own society, this production is a play in burlesque form. A cast of 11 actors, most double and triple casted, play all the roles usually worked by a cast of two dozen or more. On top of that, each actor has created their own personas
The show begins well before the first chords of the scores are played. Actors in unique “hipster” personalities mill about stage, play games, and carry out stories. These relationships resurface throughout the play adding a wonderful, sometimes subtle, sometimes not, layer of complexity. For example, Sophia Federighi the young woman who plays the Pirate King (did I mention this show includes gender bending?) and Paul Linnes who doubles as music director and the Major General spar both as their characters and as their “actor” personas.
Each member of the cast brings something special and unique to the show. Ashley Coates’ ability as an over the top character actor is brilliant and contrasts beautifully with Jordan Melin’s pretty boy pomp and stiff heroic ego. Jordan and Arwen Dewey beautifully rock the score as Frederick and Mabel (respectively), and Katherine Kuntz is one of the most talented young physical comedians I’ve seen in a LONG time!
I could go on and on about how much I really did love this show, but it wouldn’t do it justice. You have to see it to really get it, and even then it might take a little bit of time to let it all sink in. It is play in burlesque form. It takes a concept, strips it down, says something about it, puts its back together with tassels twirling, and through it all there is a storm of proverbial glitter, feathers and fans. There is a LOT to take in friends, but you should seriously try, and if one viewing isn’t enough STAGEright’s “repeat offender” policy will give you the opportunity to see it again.
STAGEright’s Production of The Pirates of Penzance plays through November 19, at Freehold in Belltown on Fri-Sat evenings at 8:00pm. For more information check out www.seattlestageright.org
It’s a Fosse Jack MUST SEE, so I hope you get the chance!
~ Fosse Jack