Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“The Pirates of Penzance”

One of my favorite spots for summer fun is Navy Pier- a place with family fun and one where an entire family can find enjoyment. Whether visiting Chicago Shakespeare Theatre for the classic or children’s programming, spending an hour or so with Cirque Shanghai ( a regular summer fare) or just walking the shops or dining areas including the beer garden with entertainment galore, Navy Pier is something for not just tourists, but the many Chicago area residents who never visit the wonderful lakefront in our city. We have many boats and ships that tour the lake, some with dinner, others just for the view. One of our most notable ships is the Tall Ship Windy, known for being considered the flagship of our city. Under the direction of owners Captain Bruce and Karen Randall, this magnificent traditional four masted schooner allows visitors to see the skyscape from the lake under the watchful eye of a talented and experienced crew.

While just touring the lake has been a great experience over the years, a newly formed company, the Artistic Company of Tall Ship Windy chose to bring the ship to a new level and a new experience. Live theater on a moving ship where the audience members can ( and will) be involved. For their first production, why not do Gilbert and Sullivan’s famed classic operetta, “The Pirates of Penzance”, a briskly paced, comedic musical treat that is about Pirates and sea-farers. Perfect! Under the direction of  the Coulding family, they are testing the production and response through the 9th of September. Directed by Emma Couling and Jessie Mutz with the Tall Ship as their set, around 90 passengers sit on the stage as they journey out on the lake and perform a 90 minute version of this classic. Orion Coulding, the company’s Artistic Directo plays the Pirate King and appears to be having a ball. There are some who might think that this is “vanity theater”, a place for an actor to be able to make sure they get the lead role and do things their way, but I can assure you Mr. Couling has the vocal pipes, the acting ability and the ability to climb about the ship no matter the winds or currents, a true swashbuckler from a time long gone.                                                                                                          

The cast of young performers have excellent voices although on a windy night, depending on where you may sit, you may have a hard time with some of the words. Some body mikes would make what the actors do even more enjoyable. The cast floats from deck to deck, up the stairs and down and often mingles with the audeince members making us feel more a part of the production. Frederick, the lead ( deftly handled by Stephen Boyer) is 21 ( or so he thinks) today and according to his agreement with the Pirate King can leave the group and go on his way. His nursemaid who turned him over to the pirates , Ruth ( an adorable performance by June Entwisle Miller) misunderstood the boys father thinking he said Pirate instead of Pilot. As it turns out, Frederick was born on February 29th ( Leap Year) and so he is not really living up to the doctrine that states until he has had his 21st birthday. This causes much grief as he falls in love with the lovely Mabel ( enchantingly played by Michelle Perkowitz).

What makes this production truly different and special is the venue and the actors mobility on a set that is moving and being tossed by the winds from time to time. It is not an all-star cast, but it is a fine cast of players who have truly remarkable voices and a desire to tell the story that has been told for many years in a new environment.Brian Elliott does a nice job as the Major General Stanley, but may be the weakest link in this bright cast. The comic touch of David Fink ( as Sergeant of Police) and his men are limited by the workable space and yet Fink pulls it off and David Zizic’s musical direction works. Amber Wuttke has found some marvelous costumers to assist her and one can see that Mr. Couling does have the best of costumes and props ( props are well done by Angela Davis) Mr. Couling also handles the fight choreography as he takes risks climbing the riggings, on rails and fencing. He almost defies gravity, or else he has no fear at all!

I was concerned as to how long it took to board the Ship and to take off, what with the stopping for photos ( which they sell) and getting people placed on just the right deck of the ship, but once we were all settled and the show began, it was magical! For those who know the production and have seen some of the special editions of it ( Marriott did a strong one two seaosns ago), you need to understand that this is something new- a stage that moves with the cast and audience sharing space and I am in hopes that we will experience mor eof this in 2013. If you get sea-sick, be prepared to take what you take for motion sickness prior to getting on board.

You can take this pleasurable journey with Gilbert and Sullivan for a very limited time only:

Next week-end, September 9-10. Tickets are $45 and can be ordered by calling 312-451-2700 or visit www.tallshipwindy.com

they have added at least one show already on Saturday afternoon, but who knows, they may add more.

There are plenty of dining spots at Navy Pier and remember, parking is one cost $25 for 24 hours ( no in and out) so make it a full day at Navy Pier while we still have some comfortable weather. Enjoy one of Chicago’s main attractions!

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