Most would think of a pirate as a swashbuckling rogue, a harsh and hardened buccaneer fighting and conniving his way into someone else’s treasure chest. This just isn’t the case with the “Pirates of Penzance,” a group of soft-hearted orphans who are, objectively, terrible at their job.
The Lyceum Theater’s production was a complete delight with quirky moments and pointed looks at the audience that caused hearty laughter. Talented actors in outrageous costumes managed to turn a shallow farce into a captivating affair. However, there were some things that didn’t quite capture the audience, including long dance numbers, unusual match-ups, and poor sound.
The operetta follows the young gentleman, Frederic, played by freshman DJ Fields, who was accidentally bound to piracy until his 21st birthday by his hard-of-hearing nursery maid, Ruth, played by junior Hannah Jepsen. The spoof mocks themes of love, duty, and nobility as the cast of 24 tapped, danced, and strut its way around the stage.
The band of pirates Frederic was pledged to are too kind and gentle to be rich or rugged. Led by their Pirate King, senior Andreas Schmidt, the band of orphaned young men are full of compassion and, as the audience soon finds out, loyal to Queen Victoria. Schmidt, in his last show on the Ed & Dixie Arnold Stage, did well in walking the line between sympathy and rowdiness for his character.
When Frederic leaves the pirates, he has the idea to marry his middle-aged nurse Ruth, believing she is beautiful because he has never seen another woman. However, upon meeting eight giggling sisters, he immediately banishes Ruth and proclaims his love for the only willing sister, Mabel, played by alumna Caitlin Theobald.
The role of Mabel was double-cast between Theobald and senior Gabriel Incromena, with an alternating performance schedule, due to the former’s experience with opera and the demanding nature on the actor’s voice. Though Theobald’s vocals were undeniable on opening night, it was hard to reconcile the mature alumna next to the freshman Fields. Both actors shone in their parts, but the awkward match-up due to age difference was distracting on stage.
The other seven sisters were the perfect balance of foolishness and insight. Their vibrant costumes paired with ridiculous hairstyles and hats mocked Victorian culture and the expected behavior of young women. The sisters were led by the trio of Edith (sophomore Breanne Pancarik), Kate (sophomore Janae Beaver), and Isabel (junior Gwen Olson), who guided the ensemble in their impressive and rapid songs and refrains. I mean honestly, I know girls who can talk fast, but not that fast. That took some serious skill.
Speaking of shockingly speedy singing, sophomore Robert Ball had the audience howling with portrayal of the girls’ father, Major-General Stanley. Ball was convincingly old with his wrinkles and mutton-chop beard. His introductory song was sung so quickly and enunciated so well, the audience’s heads were left spinning. And then he does it in double time at request of the Pirate King.
The singing, especially the high notes required of Theobald and Pancarik, was at times hard to hear and understand among the movement and dancing on stage. Though frustrating, the lighthearted and simple nature of the story still made it fairly easy to follow along.
The plot was silly and shallow. But being a satire, the ridiculous antics were more than enough for the cast to work with, and the fun dialogue left room for extensive choreography and impressive vocals.
The show began on a simple but incredible pirate ship set, complete with climbable rigging and a sail. Senior Heather Greenfield wowed the audience with her silks routine. Sophomore Erick Paul, playing the Pirate King’s right-hand-man, Samuel, impressed once again with his extensive gymnastic capabilities, flipping his way back-and-forth across the stage.
Though the dancing was nothing short of phenomenal, the sheer amount of it was a detractor from the actual plot. When there was several minutes sans dialogue–in a show traditionally with no dancing at all–it was easy to forget exactly what was going on. By the time the show had been going for two hours, what should have been a well-appreciated tap number became a moment of glancing at my watch.
This wasn’t to say that the tapping wasn’t impressive. The police squad was led by junior Cameron Burchard and included senior Alexanthe Kane, sophomore Noelle Roth, freshman Karli Strate, and sophomore Emily Coffey. The policemen tapped through tremors, terrors, exhaustion, and excitement, but never missed a beat from one another. The precision was nothing short of shocking. During a cast talk-back, the squad revealed hours of practice went in to achieve this effect.
Overall, the night was full of laughter and lunacy, where you could tell not only the audience but the cast was enjoying themselves. Though heavy on dance, especially for an already vocal-heavy operetta, the high quality of the numbers showed an attention to detail that was notable nonetheless. “The Pirates of Penzance” turned out to be a merry night of mockery.