Review: ‘Pirates’ Humors, Charms

The Gilbert & Sullivan Players succeed with operetta’s talented cast

W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan could have hardly imagined their most beloved operetta The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty as performed by the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players under the direction of Ashley A.P. Horan ’05. It is a delightful romp of song and dance, with a flamboyant (and let us not forget, glitter-chest) Pirate King who immediately calls to mind images of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s light-hearted operetta of duty, sentimental orphan pirates, cowardly police and love is brought to a different level of wild comedy with the personal interpretations in characterization, particularly by actors in secondary roles. Ben Engle, a senior at the Boston Conservatory who plays the Pirate King is the most memorable part of the cast. From his entrance, Engle was overwhelmingly significant, in part due to his tall frame and strong stage presence, but more so for his outrageously affected behavior and heavy eye make-up.

Jeffery W. Howard ’08 equally hilarious in the always crowd-pleasing role of Major General Stanley—he introduces himself with the ridiculously fast, tongue-twisting song, “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General.” Howard had the audience clapping for the more rapidly sung encore before he even began to sing it. With facial expressions akin to those of Lucille Ball, Brianne Boyd is lovely as the not so lovely and slightly deaf maid-of-all-work, Ruth.

This is not to say, however, that the lead actors were not equally talented. Arlo D. Hill ’08 delivered a strong performance with a strong vocals as the overly duty-conscious Frederick. His anachronistic use of his hands to “quote” and the to-be invented wrist watch only served to heighten the comedic effect. Chelsey J. Forbess ’07 played Mabel, the love interest, and displayed a good sense of comedic timing, especially in the song “Poor Wandering One!” where she coyly delays Frederick’s satisfaction for a kiss.

The cast as a whole demonstrated a great sense of comedy, saluting the blare of trumpets above whenever the word “duty” was mentioned, for instance. Bo Meng ’06, the overly weepy pirate Samuel, and T. Josiah M. Pertz ’05, the Charlie Chaplin waddling Sergeant of Police rounded out this wonderful cast, along with Allison Hymel and Emily Geller who boast perhaps the strongest voices as Mabel’s sisters Edith and Kate.

The Pirates of Penzance made wonderful use of the cozy Agassiz Theater stage with a multi-purpose rotating set. The actors’ interaction with the audience was a fun added touch—the Chorus of General Stanley’s Wards sang their entrance song up and down the aisles before heading onto the stage to finish with a delightful and facetiously choreographed number involving parasols. But perhaps the crowning touch was when major general Howard grabbed an unsuspecting audience member to weep on and was given a hanky by music director and conductor Mark P. Musico ’07.

The only drawback was during parts when the full cast participated some words were lost in the tumult. However, a majority of the audience seemed to have memorized the lyrics, and those who were not as familiar with the score could infer meaning from the telling facial expressions of the cast. In theory, Sullivan’s music alone could have carried the show, and the well-rehearsed orchestra, led by concert mistress Joanna N. Huey ’06, conveyed the score’s many nuances.

If the frequency that the Harvard-Radcliff Gilbert & Sullivan Players stage The Pirates of Penzance (every four to five years) speaks of the wide appeal of the operetta, the sold out audiences speak as loudly to the ability of this particularly gifted cast.