Traditional, proper Gilbert and Sullivan this ain't. But this scaled down version of "Pirates of Penzance" definitely packs in the laughs for those in the mood for absurdist parody. Director Brendan Mack and his zany band of actors have taken their obvious love for the show and realized how ridiculous the piece really is and then amped that silliness up to 11.
For those unfamiliar with this century old comic opera we follow young Frederic who in his youth was apprenticed to The Pirate King by mistake. But now reaching his 21st birthday, he is released from his obligations to the King and vows to destroy the pirates. As soon as he leaves the pirates' ship he encounters the fair Mabel who vows her love for him. All should be well but the Pirate King has found a loophole in the contract and Frederic must decide to fulfill his duty and realign himself with the Pirates or betray the contract and ally himself with Mabel and her family against the pirates.
So that's how the story normally goes and the basics are not changed here. But now it's been sifted through the craziness of Mack and what comes out is not altogether easy to describe. I was unsure exactly what I was seeing; cover band, asylum inmates or Kindergarten class. But whichever you choose, the result was riotously funny as this troupe played rock/paper/scissors to choose parts, cross dressed to play multiple parts and even pulled from the audience to present the piece. With only 11 cast members (for a show that usually requires dozens of people to round out all the pirates, daughters and police) they've double and triple cast roles to hilarious effect.
Cast members Jordan Melin, Arwen Dewey, Ashley Coates, Sophia Federighi, Tracy Lewis, Britt Boyd, Cozy Josephsen, Evan Thomas and Ben Cournoyer along with music director Paul Linnes fill out this immense group of characters with ease and armed only with the barest of costume pieces and props almost as if they had found the score and a trunk of costumes and just went for it. Coates mugs and steals every scene she's in with her dual roles of the nurse Ruth and a blind daughter who ends up repeatedly chasing constable Cournoyer around a pillar. Boyd thrilled us playing almost every character imaginable and also keeping count on how many times the word "orphan" is used. Federighi struts around the stage in a pink cocktail dress as the Pirate King (yes, you heard me right). Josephson, Lewis and Thomas were hysterical as three very different daughters along with their pirate counterparts. Kuntz may not have had a ton of singing to do but had the comedy down as the chief constable. And Melin and Dewey wowed with probably the best voices as the doomed lovers Frederic and Mabel each with their own uproarious idiosyncrasies. And let's not forget Linnes who not only provided the music for the whole show only on piano but also doubled as the Major General.
A truly ambitious undertaking with a magnificent outcome. True, at times the bits may have gotten a little scattered but for the most part when that happened the cast would make a joke on the gaff and move on. I must admit to being a little trepidatious on this one at start considering my own feelings for the show but the irreverence and chaos is obviously coupled with a passion for the piece and only served to turn the insanity into a love letter. And this is definitely an evening of insanity that I can recommend. We can all use a little insanity.
"Pirates of Penzance" from STAGEright performs at Freehold Theatre in Belltown through November 19th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlestageright.org.
Photo credit: Dan Davidson