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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lively Pirates

Classical Review

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The Skylight has a long tradition of Gilbert & Sullivan, which has often been some of the company's best work. Such was the case with The Pirates of Penzance, which opened last Friday. I happily recommend this production to anyone who likes operas, operettas or musicals.

The good cast features a nearly ideal Frederic in lyric tenor Robert M. Boldin, charming and believably openhearted. Niffer Clarke is highly accomplished vocally and dramatically as Mabel, with a clear voice and freedom in the stylized ingenue role, though she seems a mismatch for the 21-year-old Frederic. Diane Lane, usually seen in leads, threw herself into the character role of Frederic's nursemaid Ruth, and proved again what a good singing actress she is. I always look forward to anything John Muriello does at Skylight. He brings his grounded wackiness to the Sergeant of Police. As Major-General Stanley, Gary Briggle's familiar, gaudily goosed-up campiness played well with most of the audience, I suppose. But I found his performance to be a distasteful brand of ham.

G&S needs insightful direction. Bill Theisen's direction of this traditional production was lively and full of details, perhaps too busily cluttered at times, but successful nonetheless. Most of Theisen's ideas work. One that did not is the aria "Oh, Is There Not One Maiden Breast." When Frederic (who has not seen any women except his nursemaid for 13 years) soaringly sings the strangely touching comic phrase "however plain you be, I'll love you" to the maidens encountered on the Cornwall coast, he means it. His innocent purity was undermined by direction making him calculating and falsely out of character in the aria. Deeper comedy, mixed with poignancy, would come from barefaced earnestness.

Conductor Jamie Johns keeps things fairly tight, with a touch of musical restraint that G&S needs. The Skylight orchestra has varied greatly over the years; this is one of the better editions. This is a musically satisfying Pirates overall, particularly the well-sung duets and trios of Act Two.

Runs through June 14 at the Broadway Theatre Center.

2009-05-26