at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
The Pirates of Penzance
by Gilbert and Sullivan
What a silly, talented romp! I cannot imagine a better production of this classic piece of fluff.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival delivers 200% of the music and action of the show. The production is physically dazzling, inventive, and big. The voices, especially those of Eddie Lopez (Frederic), Michael Elich (the Pirate King), David Kelly (Major-General Stanley), Robin Goodrin Nordli (Ruth), Robert Vincent Frank (Samuel), and Khori Dastoor (Mable) are socks-knocking-off powerful, expressive, and entertaining. And, yeah, I said “especially” and then named more than a handful of actors… and I feel bad about not singling out more.
Face it. Whatever story line exists, it is a thin vehicle to let the performers sing, dance, and generally strut their stuff. Director Bill Rauch once again created a flawless framework that allows the actors’ considerable talent to own the stage. He lets the trademark Gilbert and Sullivan highs do their work while modernizing and updating just enough to prevent any feel of watching a past-the-sell-by-date period piece.
The set is imaginative, and the use of large-scale puppets to augment the static scenery made us grin. Bird and bats settled the audience in its seats to start both acts in an effective, amusing way.
The costumes are vivid, lush, and complementary to bombastic action. Tim Gunn himself would applaud the detail on the dresses, the pirates were rakishly tuned out, and I loved the bright red military uniforms. Even the cops were appropriately Keystone in their garb.
But, most of all, it was the music that created the magic. The production added a judicious number of bars of modern-ish classics. Four notes from The Beatles and a measure or two from other post-1900 musical icons kept the cobwebs off the score… not that the singing itself needed help in dusting off the songs.
Perhaps the most fun for veteran Oregon Shakespeare Festival audiences is the commanding range exhibited by stalwarts of legit plays and spoken comedies. Before this performance, I thought of David Kelly as fading from the scene, terminally type cast as a one-note goof. Wow! His quick and strong voice in Pirates gives him a new dimension and, for me, a new stage life. And, how could Ashland have kept Eddie Lopez from the spotlight for these past seasons? His beautiful voice — and, frankly, similar face and body — created realistic love-story moments from the trivial script. Why has he been cast as stage parsley in other plays before now?
What wonderful surprises!
Smile, applaud, count syllables in fast-moving silly songs, feast eyes on excellent choreography, and enjoy the evening a hell of a lot. Simple and complete.
There’s nothing earth shaking or life changing about this well-constructed variety show. Not even the inclusion of a gay couple at the final “everyone gets married” scene adds significant social conscience to Pirates. And, no one, not even us ascetics, cares.
Pirates is a wonderful night of musical comedy theater.