Performed with passion and authority, Lamplighters Music Theatre’s 2018 Pirates of Penzance is a stunning tour de force. Although the ensemble is still the message, as always in a Lamplighters performance, nevertheless, individual performers must be recognized, as well. Erin O Meally’s, Mabel, delineated in a voice pure and golden, is a standout. Jonathan Spencer’s Pirate King baritone, deep and forceful, contrasts with Michael Desnoyer’s juvenile Frederic’s lighter voice. F Lawrence Ewing brings his ironic flair to modern major general Stanley, the pater familias.
The mise en scene, an isolated Cornish shore, is crowded in sequence by pirates and suffragettes, who upon meeting, soon contemplating mating. Stage Director Nicolas Garcia has updated Pirates by few years to the Suffragette era, standing in for the contemporary “Me Too Movement”. The traditional guileless maidens have become accomplished botanists, surveyors, photographers, navigators and athletes, carrying their professional instruments with them, as well as an unfurled banner campaigning for the vote, as they explore the coastline, in advance of their father, a modern major general versed in mathematics and science.
The plot is set in motion, with Frederic, an apprentices’ graduation from his pirate training. Indentured to this seemingly lawless crew by his hard of hearing nanny, who mistook her employers wish to give his son a maritime career as a “pilot” made him a pirate instead. Having reached his majority Frederick, about to be released from service, informs the Pirate King that he has served against his moral beliefs but that as soon as he has completed his service, he will seek to bring the pirates to justice. Individually, he loves them all, but as a collectivity, they must be brought to justice.
Ruth expresses her wish to marry Frederic but he is doubtful due to their age difference and his inability to test his judgment of her beauty of which she assures him due to lack of comparison as she is the only female in the pirate company. This knowledge gap is soon filled as the gentle laughter of young women making their way up the coast fills the air. Age difference in male female relationships is one convention not called into question by gentle spoof of class and gender conventions. The quarter century difference between a man who has just reached his majority and his former nanny is beyond the author’s ken but not the stage director’s interpretation as Ruth, played by Gwendolyn Reid Kuhlman is an acting surprise when the timorous ageing nanny of the first act reveals herself as a saucy sexpot in the 2nd.
A crew of “bobbies,” British police, with their nightsticks as sole weapons, chanting Tarantara, as they prepare to seek out their pirate adversaries is the highlight of the 2nd Act. The finale confrontation reveals that the putative pirates are lapsed nobleman. One and all, they meekly surrender when the police admonish them to honor their Queen Victoria. The pirates return to their legislative duties in the house of Lords, mated. And so, conventional social norms are restored, even updated a bit as the couple sorting in the conclusion includes gay as well as straight pairing.
Operetta became opera in the dramatic flair of the Mountain View performance. After tumultuous applause, a stage speech called attention to the Lamplighter’s 66th season. This production sets a new benchmark in this reviewers near decade long acquaintance with the Bay Area’s Renaissance of a quintessential British musical theatrical tradition. As Silicon Valley’s egalitarian ethos gives way to a more hierarchical mode, Gilbert and Sullivan’s pointed critique becomes even more relevant.
Photos: Courtesy of The Lamplighters
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