Printable CopyPIRATES OF PENZANCE (BROADWAY VERSION)
Therry Dramatic Society
The Arts Theatre
Until 15 Jun 2019

Review by Brian Godfrey

It may be the Cornish piratical bloodline I have in my ancestry on my mother’s side (Dodman Point in Cornwall is named after my forebears), but “Pirates Of Penzance” has always been my favourite of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas. The ‘Broadway Version’ of the show refers to the New York Shakespeare Festival production first mounted in Central Park in 1980. We Aussies probably know it better as the Simon Gallagher/Jon English version. It takes the fun of the original 19th Century version and runs with it, frequently breaking the fourth wall and hamming it up – generally having fun with it, which works well.

What doesn’t work at all well in this current production are the extremely strange choices of having virtually no set (but for a conglomeration of strangely semi-Art Deco decorated rostra) and transporting the cast costume-wise into the 1920s – or are they? While the pirates resemble the cast of the musical “Newsies” and the maidens look like they have stepped straight from a production of “The Boy Friend”, the Pirate King seems to have been caught in a crack in the space/time continuum, wearing 1800s costume, but looking more like a Pirate of the Caribbean than of Penzance (if you hear a strange noise, that’s my ancestors turning over in their graves). Also, the finale of the show has the cast singing of their duty and loyalty to Queen Victoria – she died in 1901!

Meanwhile, back at the almost non-existent set: the question must be asked, why have stage crew change the set at the start of Act Two when it could be done behind the curtain during interval? Oh, one more question: why are there cross-dressing pirates and maidens?

But, to the huge, huge attraction of this production: it literally SINGS! The sounds that emanate from this entire cast are absolutely beautiful and a joy to hear. There is not one mis-pitched note from anyone. Musical Director Mark Sandon is to be congratulated on the sound that he elicits from the performers and his orchestra; and kudos to Marty Gilbert and Allpro Audio for balancing the sound magnificently.

Looking and performing like a young David Campbell, Jared Frost is absolutely wonderful as Frederic. Ladies in the audience, prepare to swoon along with the maidens when he croons ‘Oh, Is There Not One Maiden Breast’. As Mabel, Serena Martino-Williams’ vocals are absolutely stunning and I don’t think that I have heard ‘Ah, Leave Me Not To Pine’ sung so sweetly.

Vanessa Lee Shirley carries off the role of Ruth well with great comic flair, but I can’t help but feel she is a little young for the role. Nicholas Bishop is the perfect model of a modern Major-General Stanley (did G&S aficionados see what I did there?). As the Pirate King, Chad Crittle portrays the role fairly well; he just needs a touch more swash in his buckle when it comes to machismo. Nathan Quadrio impresses as Samuel; his voice just gets stronger with every role he takes on and his comedy is splendid. Be prepared to be arrested by Nicholas Coxhill’s voice and comedy styling as the Sergeant.

The ensemble is a joy to watch and listen to, with some nice little touches supplied to them by director Richard Trevaskis. Everyone is also to be applauded for mastering Konstanz Symeonakis’ dazzling and fun choreography.

This is a fast-paced, funny and incredibly beautifully sung production that (despite the irks mentioned previously), does the original proud. So ‘go ye heroes’ to the Arts Theatre for yet another rousing Therry production.