PIRATES OF PENZANCE

Pasadena Playhouse is throwing a beach party and you’re invited to share the stage with the players as the audaciously talented young Chicago troupe known as The Hypocrites treat L.A. audiences to the fun-in-the-sun extravaganza that is their take on Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates Of Penzance.

The tale that has taken these Midwest players Hypocrite-crossing the country since their Pirates made its 2010 Chi-town debut has been delighting the world for nearly a hundred-forty years, but never quite like this.

Young Freddy (Doug Pawlik), having spent most of his life apprenticed to a Pirate King (Shawn Pfautsch) and his band of buccaneers, learns to his dismay that had it not been for his nursemaid Ruth’s (Dana Omar) unfortunate hearing impairment, he ought by rights to have been trained, not as a pirate, but as a ship’s pilot (accent on the ”l”).

 Fortunately for Freddy, this apprenticeship will end on his 21st birthday, thereby allowing the young pirate’s thoughts to turn to from thievery to love, though since the only woman he’s ever seen is the ever so matronly Ruth, it’s not until he spots Major General Stanley’s (Matt Kahler) four comely daughters that it occurs to him there are younger, more beauteous maidens to choose from, and since youngest daughter Mabel (Omar again) is more than willing to wed the handsome Freddy, the betrothed couple have only to wait till the 20-year-old turns 21 and is at long last free.

There’s just one hitch.

Since his 2-29 birthday falls but once every four years, and since his indenture specifies he remain a junior pirate till his 21st birthday, freedom won’t be Freddy’s till he turns eighty-four.

 Familiar as this tale may be to Gilbert & Sullivan fans (or to movie buffs who’ve caught the 1983 Rex Smith-Kevin Kline-Linda Rondstadt flick), it’s a sure bet none of them have seen Pirates Of Penzance reimagined Hypocrites-style.

Let’s start with a scenic design set up smack dab upon the Pasadena Playhouse stage and extending out over where the audience would normally sit.

Though reserved-seat ticket holders will find themselves permanently situated on all four sides of Tom Burch’s colorful seaside resort, an under-$30 general ticket will let you plop down atop any number of rainbow-hued benches or picnic coolers, inside plastic wading pools, or high up on the pier, that is until a cast member taps you on the shoulder and sends you seeking an empty spot elsewhere because for the next minute or two or three, where you were seated is where the action will be.

 And then there are the players, ten Chicagoans who prove themselves the very definition of quadruple-threat, not only acting, singing, and dancing up an ocean storm (the latter thanks to whiz choreographer Katie Spelman) but performing the entire score themselves on accordion, banjo, clarinet, flute, guitar, and ukulele under Andra Velis Simon’s expert musical direction.

 Oh, and did I mention the thatch-roofed onstage bar where audience members can order their favorite tropical drink to imbibe before or during the show, or that Gilbert And Sullivan get a bit of help from the Beach Boys, Survivor, and Kelis, or that the eighty-minute production includes a precisely-timed single-minute intermission?

Admittedly, those unfamiliar with anything other than the show’s title may find themselves at a loss to know what’s going on plotwise, but this Pirates Of Penzance is all about the experience, not the storyline, and under Sean Graney’s supremely imaginative direction, what an infectiously joyous experience it is.

 Paulik’s dashing, charming Freddy anchors the production (no nautical pun intended).

Pfautsch’s swashbuckling Pirate King and Kahler’s nimble-tongued Major General (“I’m very well acquainted too with matters mathematical, I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical”) lend dynamic support, doubling respectively as King’s Lieutenant Samuel and as a police sergeant whose underlings would do Mack Sennett proud.

 Omar delights comedically as the foghorn-voiced Ruth and dazzles vocally as the high-soprano-note-hitting Mabel, as the equally multi-gifted Mario Aivazian, Eduardo Xavier Curley-Carillo, Amanda Raquel Martinez, Tina Muñoz-Pandya, Leslie Ann Sheppard, and Lauren Vogel portray assorted tutu-sporting Daughters, Pirates in tank tops and Bermudas, and mustachioed Cops, their costumes the creations of designer Alison Siple.

 Heather Gilbert’s lighting is vibrant as all get-out, highlighted by festival bulbs up above and tiki lamps down below; properties designer Maria DeFabo Akin merits her own props for more beachballs, sunglasses, and rubber duckies than I could possibly count; and at the performance reviewed Kevin O’Donnell’s sound design went off almost without a hitch.

Miranda Anderson is stage manager and Nikki Hyde is assistant stage manager. Joe Witt is general manager, Chris Cook is production manager, and Brad Enlow is technical director.

Unlike just about anything I’ve ever seen, Pirates Of Penzance more than merits its visitor’s spot on the Pasadena Playhouse lineup. Not only that, but since The Mikado and HMS Pinafore also form part of the Hypocrites’ G&S repertoire, I for one would be more than happy to see them invited back next year and the one after for more madness, merriment, and music like they do it in The Chi.

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Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Through February 25. Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00, Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:00, Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00. Reservations: 626 356-7529
www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

–Steven Stanley
January 31, 2018
Photos: Jenny Graham

 

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