The Pirates Of Penzance at the Ordway

Gary Briggle in The Pirates Of Penzance. Photo by Molly Shields.

Gary Briggle in The Pirates Of Penzance. Photo by Molly Shields.

The first thing to say about the Ordway’s rollicking production of the William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan classic The Pirates Of Penzance (in the cavernous Ordway, through August 16): it’s good. Excellent, in fact.

Especially the music. Everyone sings the wonderful music with laudable authority. Everybody. Especially (as a reviewer, I’m obigated to single out favorite performers) Brandon O’Neill at the lusty Pirate King, Gary Briggle as Major-General Stanley (more about Mr. B in a moment) and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Frederick the not-the-sharpest-tool-in-the-shed apprentice. But the hearty Pirates are wonderful, and ditto the Leaping Maidens, and the Canadian Mounties (??) with their disturbing riding crops. Whoever is responsible for the mics (Steve Tyler, the music director? Jason Allyn-Schwerin, the tech director? Alex Hawthorn, the sound dude?) served the play masterfully. Tyler made sure the music is tight and unflacid. Bravos, all.

Bravos also to the squad of crack designers – Tom Struge (sets), Lynda L. Salsbury (costumes), Hawthorn, to name only a few – who provide us some lovely eye candy. Act I is a rocky seashore. This makes sense but Act II is, inexplicably, set in a ruined moonlit chapel. But who cares. It’s all lovely.

The Pirates Of Penzance is justly famous for the lung-busting patter song, “I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General” and Briggle (with, no doubt, plenty of help from Tyler and director James A. Rocco) does the song proud, letting it blast forth with (as far as I could hear) no errors. He also finds some nice variety in the tune, which is then reprised, effectively, by O’Neill and by Anne Eisendrath (I think; if I am wrong, I will be pleased to stand corrected). It’s the centerpiece of the show.

Briggle plays The Pirates Of Penzance as if recently arrived in a sterile ship from the planet Mizar-5: his costumes, wigs and make-up, his playing style are, to say the least, unique. This works beautifully, but it brings me to another point about this piece: it’s campy.

How could it not be? The plot of The Pirates Of Penzance derives from the flimsiest of premisi: Major-General Stanley is in an agony of guilt, having told the Pirates a tiny fib (that he is an orphan). Frederick, born on Feb 29, must, due to a distended sense of… duty, remain a pirate until 1940. “Will you wait for me?” he asks Mabel, breathlessly. “Yes,” she says, clearing her throat.

Is it possible to produce a campless G&S? Not really, not in 2015. The Maidens (all the same age, all sharing the same father; hm). The opening song (“Pour, Oh, Pour The Pirate Sherry”). The mincing Major-General. The geese falling from the flyloft. Pirates hiding in stone pillars. Kudoes to Rocco for keeping the camp in check until Act II, when it explodes, providing some much needed ending energy.

G&S’s shows are unique, and here’s your shot to see a G&S classic (along with The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore) beautifully done.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, has recently been published. His plays, Sideways Stories From Wayside School and Art Dog, are scheduled, at Child’s Play Arizona and Salt Lake Acting Company, respectively. For more info please visit John’s website.


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