At the Shubert
With "H.M.S. Pinafore" Gilbert and Sullivan gained their first great popular success, and in their next work they bathed themselves in their new-found virtuosity. Gilbert began to write profounder satire and at the same time became more ambitious in his lyrics, while Sullivan indulged in counterpoint and harmony as he grew more adept at tossing off melodies. "The Pirates of Penzance" was almost as successful as its predecessor, although it dealt with such abstractions as "duty," and had no characters to compare with Buttercup or Sir Joseph Porter K.C.B.
The D'Oyly Carte production of "The Pirates" now at the Shubert, rather than getting by on clowning, plays up the unique qualities of the operetta, allowing the music to be heard, and even exaggerating the satire of a band of pirates who prefer their trade to "the cheating world . . . where pirates all are well-to-do." After last week, Martyn Green is almost unrecognizable as the Major General. Instead of giving way to capering about the stage, he remains a rather pathetic figure, in or near the clutches of the equally pathetic pirates. The same may be said for Darrell Fancourt as the Pirate King, whose voice and acting ability are always restrained but never unnoticed.
Mabel, probably the most difficult role that Sullivan ever wrote, was sung imperfectly by Helen Roberts, but it would be difficult to imagine anyone acting a winsome part more winsomely. In the somewhat lesser role of Edith, Denise Findley gave by far the best female performance. The sets were as usual wonderful, and the conducting of Isadore Godfrey was for the most part an improvement on the D'Oyly Carte recording. His original use of the accompanying bass and of the French horns was one of the many surprises of the evening. Among other pleasures were the singing of the "Paradox" ("ha-ha-ha-ha") trio and the presence of the pitiful little corps of policemen who wander on and off the stage in bewilderment during the second act.
"Trial by Jury," which came as a curtain-raiser, is a tidy little musical farce about a breach-of-promise trial. The company used what actors they had left over from the excellent cast of "The Pirates," and produced it with a certain competent lightness. Enough stage business was crammed into the operetta's twenty-five minutes to fill a three-hour play, but somehow nothing seemed forced. Richard Watson as the jovial Judge and Gwyneth Cullimore as the charming but money-conscious Plaintiff helped to make the evening joyous for both the arrogant Savoyard and the man who merely likes a good tune and a good laugh.