I must preface my review and its rating by stating that those who are Gilbert and Sullivan fanatics will not be pleased with what the -Hypocrites theatre company has done to one of the most famous of their operetta’s “The Pirates of Penzance”. What they have done is a modernized 80 minute version with some new arrangements by Kevin O’Donnell that is directed by Sean Graney, who is known to do some bizare things over the years. Pirates is a cute story about a young man, Frederic (Zeke Sulkes), an orphan, who in error was apprenticed to a band of pirates. It turns out he was supposed to be apprenticed to be a pilot ( not a pirate). Now that he is 21 and an adult, he can choose his own life and instead of marrying Ruth ( a divine and comical turn by Christine Stulik) a woman over 20 years his senior, he meets and falls inn love with the much younger Mabel ( also played by Ms Stulik, who does some very quick changes), one of four daughters of the Major General ( Matt Kahler, who is not as solid a singer as he is an actor truly handles this role with just the right comic touches).
As it turns out, however, Frederic is not really 21 as he was born in a leap year making him about 5 1/2, so he is returned to the pirates to finish his apprenticeship leaving the other sisters ( played with great zest by Becky Poole,Emily Casey and Nikki Klix, all adorable and all very talented musicians). In act, the entire cast is made up of musicians who play a variety of musical instruments. This is another of the Graney touches. We are on a set that is composed of a dock and several smaller stage areas, on tables with kids plastic swimming pools as boats or islands or whatever they need to be. In fact, the entire 80 minutes is done in “promenade” fashion, with audience members ( except for a few seats for older members) moving about the lower level theater at The Chopin. This all works fairly well, except for the large pillars that support the upstairs theater, and a few audience members who do not understand that in this setting, one doesn’t walk in front of other audience members to get a better view. hang low and be casual is the best way to describe how an audience must behave…..think about the others and the actors!
The cast is small but quite energized and as the play progresses, the audience becomes energized as well. Robert McLean is solid as the Pirate King ( among other roles, as they almost all play more than one- except Frederic), and the other pirates who also play the police and then soldiers are handled to perfection by Ryan Bourque,Doug Pawlik and Shawn Pfautsch. If you were a regular Gilbert and Sullivan viewer, you would be used to having a stage filled with singers ( probably 30 or more. This cast has a total of ten! Remarkable and fun, BUT, not what Gilbert and Sullivan fans would term proper and reverent. But Graney has never cared much for either of these qualities and what he has placed on his stage is a fun filled 80 minutes that mocks a play that is a spoof on the classes of the British government anyway, so go with the knowledge that you will have fun, laugh and hear some witty lyrics ( I was very impressed with Kahler’s handling of “I Am A Modern Major General”- a hoot!
The set ( Tom Burch) far from what one might expect in a G & S operetta, more like a “Beach Party Bingo” B movie of the 60’s. The only thing missing was the sand ( don’t add that Sean!).Costumes are very beachlike as well (Alison Siple) with shorts and bathing attire but with some neat jackets to bring on royalty, and as the actors and audience move about the stage area, we also have Miranda Anderson, who makes sure that all the costumes and props are where they need to be as actors change characters, including making sure their musical instruments get to the next spot. Maria DeFabo does a great job with the wild and crazy props and Maureen Janson’s choreography works well despite the limited space in which these performers are placed. Mikhail Fiskel, always on top of his show, once again makes sure that the sound is perfect and despite having some “blind spots” Jared Moore lighting gets it done.
This is not a show for opera lovers or even light opera devotees! It is a show designed to be a diversion from everyday life and to allow 80 minutes of fun where you will have no time to think about your job, your bills, your anything- just to have fun! Pirates will continue at The Chopin Theater located at 1543 W. Division ( at Milwaukee Ave. and Ashland Ave) through January 30th with performances as follows:
Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
There will be NO performance from December 23 thru january 4th ENJOY THE HOLIDAYS but there will be added performances on January 19th and 26th at 7:30 p.m. and January 22nd and 29th at 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $14-28 and can be purchased by visiting www.the-hypocrites.com or calling 773-989-7352
There is free parking at Division and Noble and metered parking at Division and Bosworth. There are also meters on the street.