Story: Young Frederic is turning 21, which means that his apprenticeship with the jovial band of brigands known as The Pirates of Penzance is about to end. He warns the genial Pirate King and his men that he will, naturally, work to eradicate them once he is a free man. That’s the noble thing to do, says Frederic, even though his pals all are orphans and have a reputation for letting their captives go once their defeated foes inform them of their own orphaned status.
Frederic spends his first day of freedom in a secluded place where he comes upon a group of young women. One of them, Mabel, falls in love with Frederic, who soon learns that the women all are daughters of the local Major-General Stanley of Her Majesty’s Army.
When the Pirate King realizes that Frederic was born on Leap Day and, therefore, won’t be 21 for another 60 years, he attempts to recapture the young man. With the help of some bungling police and a most unlikely ally, though, the Major-General secures Frederic’s freedom.
Highlights: For just the second time in its history, and for the first time on the Browning Mainstage at the Loretto-Hilton Center, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis presents the perennially popular operetta by librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan that premiered in 1879.
Under the lively baton of conductor and St. Louis native Ryan McAdams and the sure-handed stage direction and spirited choreography of Sean Curran, OTSL’s Pirates is a crowd-pleaser that jauntily introduced the company’s 2013 season.
Other Info: While OTSL’s second production of Pirates (the first was at Washington University’s Edison Theatre in 1982) is polished and easy on the ears, it lacks the dynamism in certain areas that prevents it from being truly great. Hugh Russell, e.g., is OK as the Major-General but doesn’t firmly grab hold of that character’s signature number, I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General.
On the other hand, former Gerdine Young Artist Bradley Smoak takes command of the Pirate King role both musically and comically, shaping the most memorable performance in this rendition with his rich bass voice and measured comic portrayal in some of Curran’s inspired scenes on James Schuette’s cartoonish set.
Christopher Akerlind designed the lighting for this version, which he judiciously uses to spotlight several amusing numbers, such as the maidens fainting at the sight of the handsome Frederic in their midst.
Mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak is amusing as Frederic’s nursemaid, Ruth, who can scheme with the best of them in establishing a comfy life for herself. Matthew Plenk displays his splendid tenor as the pirate apprentice Frederic in his OTSL debut, although his acting could be ratcheted up a notch.
Soprano Deanna Breiwick shines as Mabel, the Major-General’s feistiest and youngest of nine daughters, showing a deft comic touch as well as a stirring voice. Former Gerdine Young Artist Jason Eck contorts his rich bass-baritone in amusing fashion as the dim-witted sergeant of the stumbling police brigade, while Gerdine Young Artist Tobias Greenhalgh makes a successful OTSL debut as the Pirate King’s earnest right-hand man, Samuel.
Schuette’s colorful costumes light up the set, accentuated by Tom Watson’s wigs and makeup. Jaime Korkos, Corrie Stallings and Katrina Galka add to the spirit of the show as three of the major-general’s daughters with minor singing roles.
While it may not be the most inspiring of presentations, OTSL’s Pirates of Penzance is a light-hearted crowd-pleaser and a sure choice to usher in its new season.
Opera: The Pirates of Penzance
Group: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Venue: Browning Mainstage, Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
Dates: May 29, 31, June 6, 9, 12, 14, 22, 26, 29
Tickets: $25-$128; contact 961-0644 or ExperienceOpera.org
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Ken Howard