|The Pirates of Penzance at the Barrington Stage Company (Photo by Kevin Sprague)|
Much as I enjoyed Pirates back in 1981, Rando is a better director than Loach, and his production, though certainly athletic and loaded with music-hall bits, is more graceful, the onstage chaos more controlled. The hamminess – a mainstay of the Papp revision – is perhaps overstated in the first act, and for me, at least, though Will Swenson’s Pirate King and his crew’s flirting with the women in the audience is a surefire crowd-pleaser, a little of that sort of hijinks goes a long way. But the show is extremely pleasurable, and it’s paced like lightning. Swenson digs into his hearty baritone to offer up “Oh, Better Far to Live and Die,” and David Garrison, a musical-theatre veteran whose career began around the time of the Papp Pirates, dispatches “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General,” the most famous of the G&S patter songs, with cool finesse, tossing off a light buck and wing at the top. The otherpatter song, “Now for the Pirates’ Lair” early in act two, performed by Swenson, Jane Carr as the “piratical maid-of-all-work” Ruth and Kyle Dean Massey as Frederic, is just as much fun. Massey, whom Nashville viewers will recognize as Chris Carmack’s on-again-off-again soulful songwriter boy friend Kevin Bicks, is handsome and boasts a well trained voice, and he’s lucky enough to have Scarlett Strallen as his Mabel. She has personality and the wit as well as the chops to pull off a bull’s-eye parody of the typical trilling operetta soprano (on “Poor Wandering One”) – and then in act two, when she’s handed one of those gorgeous Arthur Sullivan arias, “Sorry Her Lot,” she turns around and performs it straight, with genuine feeling. The seven other Stanley daughters, which include a pair of identical twins, Alanna and Claire Saunders, are entirely winning. Phillip Boykin, the barrel-chested bass who was a memorable Crown in the recent Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess, enriches the ensemble in the small role of Samuel, the Pirate King’s lieutenant.
These days a cast of twenty-two is probably the limit of what you can expect a professional theatre company to afford, and the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage couldn’t hold much more anyway. (Beowulf Boritt’s set, with its cartoon-style painted sky drops and its extension of the pirate ship into the middle of the audience for the opening scenes, makes delightful use of the space, as he did when he designed On the Town.) So the nine pirates in the ensemble do double duty as the policemen, cleverly costumed by Jess Goldstein – another On the Town alumnus – so you don’t notice until the chase scene in act two, where the number of pirates and the number of cops is necessarily cut in half. (We’re meant to figure it out; that’s part of the joke.) Bergasse, whose choreography is enjoyable and smart in the first act, ups his game when the police make their entrance at the top of the second. Their first number, “When the Foreman Bares His Steel,” is loose-limbed – vaudeville performed by a hipster variation on the Keystone Kops. Alex Gibson steps out of the chorus to play the Sergeant, and he’s hilarious, a scarecrow of a dancer with a wonderful cadaverous face. At the beginning of “When a Felon’s Not Engaged in His Employment” (the famous song with the chorus, “A policeman’s lot is not a happy one”), the men’s heads sway on their necks as if they were attached with strings and Gibson throws in some fine backward flips. I had a good time for the first half of this Pirates of Penzance; in the second act I fell in love with it. Long may that pirate flag wave. Any chance of a Broadway transfer?
|Kate Baldwin and Graham Rowat in Constellations (Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware)|
In Gregg Edelman’s production, Baldwin and Rowat convey the qualities of the play, and if you haven’t seen it before it’s a more than adequate introduction. But their performances lack variety; the scenes that echo each other don’t underline the distinctions between them, so it often feels as if they’re virtual repeats of each other. And in some odd way these two actors, who partnered each other so easily in both A Little Night Music (as the Countess and the dragoon) and Bells Are Ringing (as Ella and Jeff), aren’t quite a match here in terms of style, because they read the text, with its British sound, differently. Her approach is more technical, his more naturalistic, and neither seems exactly right – you need less technique from her and more from him. I think they’re both terrific actors, and some moments work effortlessly. I wish all of them did.
|Santino Fontana, Derrick Baskin and Company in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (Photo by Joan Marcus)|
– Steve Vineberg is Distinguished Professor of the Arts and Humanities at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he teaches theatre and film. He also writes for The Threepenny Review and is the author of three books: Method Actors: Three Generations of an American Acting Style; No Surprises, Please: Movies in the Reagan Decade; and High Comedy in American Movies.