PIRATES OF PENZANCE at OSF is a complete package

Enter the Pirate King (Michael Elich) as his shipmates look on with awe (Rodney Gardiner, Daniel T. Parker, Kimberly Scott, Christopher Livingston). Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

(Right) Major-General Stanley (David Kelly) and his daughters Khori Dastoor in blue. Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

PIRATES OF PENZANCE or The Slave of Duty. Music by Arthur Sullivan & Libretto by W.S. Gilbert. Directed by Bill Rauch, musical director Daniel Gary Busby and Choreography by Randy Duncan. Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), Ashland, OR. June 1 to October 8, 2011. www.osfashland.org

PIRATES OF PENZANCE at OSF is a complete package

OSF's big musical hits the past two years, Music Man & She Loves Me, were staged indoors at the 600 seat Agnus Bowmer Theatre. This year they have elected for the first time to mount a musical in the 1300 seat Elizabethan Theatre. That is lucky for you, because Pirates of Penzance will be the hottest ticket of the 2011 season. It is under the direction the innovative Bill Rauch whose Music Man, with one caveat of a miscast Marian, was an audience favorite.

This time around Rauch has fiddled with Gilbert and Sullivan and the result will melt the resistant hearts of even the most diehard aficionados of the G & S genre. He is aided and abetted by a superb 14 piece on stage orchestra in the first upper gallery each dressed in spiffy tuxedos conducted by Daniel Gary Busby in the stage pit. The stage hands are given similar tuxes as they fly their gulls perched on sticks over the audience and the around the colorful single-masted sailing vessel set (Michael Ganio). Speaking of color, Deborah Dryden has created costumes that are a riot of color. Well maybe too colorful for rowdy pirates but not for the ladies they admire. She outdoes the others with Major General Stanley’s outfit. And why not since he is “the very model of a modern Major General”. At least he tells us this on his grand entrance down the blinking lighted staircase (gangway) with “Hello Dolly” motif intricately laced in the G&S tempos.

Those modern tempos that suddenly appear are perfectly attuned to G&S cadences include the Beatles, "A Chorus Line", “Carmen”, “Chicago”, Gershwin, pop-rock, rap, gospel, rumba, Keystone Kop motif, Frank Sinatra and even more. The riffs are easily recognized by most of the audience and always elicit spontaneous laughter especially when the Major General suggest we "google it." They never interfere with the words and music and the cast include them with nary a hitch.

Before discussing the cast, there should be a paragraph or two of the farcical plot. It is 1879 on the coast of Cornwall, England. Frederic an apprentice pirate (charming Eddie Lopez) began his career at the age of eight and is being released from this “slavish duty” on this his 21st birthday. Horrors it was a terrible mistake. His nanny Ruth (hysterically hilarious Goodrin Nordli) thought his father said “pirate’ when he said “pilot.” In the intervening 13 years she became enamored of Frederic.

Frederic, being a true well born kid, now sees his “duty” (remember the subtitle) to exterminate the lawless pirates. We also learn that the non-success of this hearty band of cutthroats (too harsh a word, lets call them rowdies or buccaneers) led by The Pirate King (swashbuckling Michael Elich) is they refuse to attack anyone weaker, especially not orphans. There are no secrets in this fanciful world, the word gets out and everyone they attack claim to be orphans. Unsuccessful be damned, being a Pirate King is better than living in middle class morality. Pardon if that line is from another play.

After Ruth and Frederic are set adrift they come upon a bevy of beauties. They are all daughters of Major-General Stanley (David Kelly) with the leader of the clutch being Mabel (Khori Dastoor) as the spark of infatuation between Frederic and Mabel ignites into a flame of true love. Any promises Frederic made to Ruth are moot and she returns to the pirates.

Alas, the Major-General has a guilty conscience because he, to escape the grasp of the pirates, has lied that he is an orphan. When Frederic offers to lead a band of constables to capture the pirates he gets a promise of marriage to Mabel. To say you have never seen a band of constables like the ones that cavort on the Elizabethan stage would be a lie. They are a direct steal from a Max Sennet Keystone Kop movie . . . only better.

There has to be conflict because true love never runs smooth etc. Frederic was born in a leap year and since his period of servitude is through his 21st birthday he must do his duty until 1940! Never fear, a happy ending is at hand when it is discovered that the buccaneers are all high-born orphans who went astray due to improper supervision. Halleluiah and “Tarantara! tarantara! tarantara! As we slap our chest to sing.”

Most of the actors are from the OSF repertory including the fine Eddie Lopez and pitch perfect David Kelly who lead the male contingent being aided by Robert Vincent Frank, complete with a puppet parrot, as the Pirate King’s right hand man . . . he has a hook on the other hand. The addition of Khori Dastoor to the acting company is a stroke of genius. Her clear pure operatic mezzo soprano voice and dominating stage presence is a crowning addition to the solid cast.

Order your tickets now; they will be going as rapidly as G & S patter.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theathreworldinternetmagazine.com