The year was 1980, when director Wilfred Leach and choreographer Graciela Daniele took the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance and gave it a comic, anything-for-a-laugh spin, captivating audiences in Central Park and later on Broadway.
Surely the Wick Theatre’s Norb Joerder was taking notes, for he has recreated that Hellzapoppin’-style production, right down to an anachronistic Chorus Line visual joke, and the results should please all but the staunchest D’Oyly Carte purist.
The Wick may lose a few finicky Savoyards, but I’ll wager they will gain some new converts – to the G&S ranks and to the plucky Boca Raton theater company. If you have not yet checked out The Wick, this is the production that should have you jumping onto its bandwagon. Even if you have attended before, and maybe caught one of its subpar shows, this Pirates of Penzance showcases the high quality that is possible here when all the elements are clicking together.
The appeal of the theatrical duo’s shows is, among many other things, the earworm insistence of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s melodies, the satirical, exceedingly clever lyrics of W. S. Gilbert and his farcical plots, which often turn on kicks in the shins to Victorian authority figures.
Certainly all the above are much in evidence here, in a story that pits a bumbling, but self-satisfied naval major-general (Michael L. Walters) and a knockabout corps of Keystone Kops – straight out of the old Mack Sennett two-reel comedies – against a swashbuckling, highly musical band of corsairs that hail from the Cornwall coast of England.
Gilbert and Sullivan may be cynics at heart, but they know and accept the value of a good love story to motor the narrative. So we are quickly introduced to Frederic (Clay Cartland, a tad old for the part, but willing to convince us otherwise with his high-energy performance), an indentured apprentice pirate about to turn 21. Reaching his majority should erase his debt to the merry men, but Gilbert tosses in a nifty mathematical loophole that keeps Frederic on the hook.
Love soon gobsmacks the lad when a gaggle of the major-general’s daughters arrive on the scene, led by the most comely, Mabel (Krista Buccellato, who possesses a gorgeous soprano voice, employed here in a variety of vocal gymnastics.) Mabel takes an instant shine to Frederic and vice versa, while the other pirates are content to pair off with the remaining daughters.
Riding roughshod over the brood of maritime marauders is The Pirate King (Broadway veteran Sean McDermott, made up to look uncannily like Kevin Kline, who originated the role in that 1980 revival). The larger-than-life character with an outsized ego, has a soft spot for orphans, which is how many of his prisoners get released – claiming to be parentless. McDermott pulls off a nimble Abbott and Costello bit based on the similarities between “orphan” and “often.” Somehow, it all feels fresh and giddy at the Wick.
Credit musical director Eric Alsford for the crispness of the choral work, even if the ensemble has to sing to recorded music tracks – the Wick’s continued main drawback. Michael McClain has designed a pair of sprightly sets, whose blueprints he might as well keep to use the next time he is called on to mount a Peter Pan. And of course, pulling from its vast inventory, the Wick again fills the stage with colorful, period costumes, adapted by Jim Buff.
Perhaps the Wick should consider adding a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta to its season mix, so long as it can gain a commitment from Joerder and Alsford for their services. For this Pirates of Penzance is the very model of a modern, major musical.
THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, Wick Theatre, 7901 North Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Sun., Nov. 11. $75-85. 561-995-2333 or visit thewick.org.