Review: Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s 'The Pirates of Penzance'

Christian Jost

  • Onstage D.C./L.A. Critic

Gilbert and Sullivan. Without me having to say anymore you can already hear/see what we’re talking about today. We’re talking that masterful patter song style with sweeping instrumentals, and if you’re like most, you think The Pirates of Penzance. The Pirates of Penzance is classified as an Operetta, the style Gilbert and Sullivan excelled at. Operetta’s bridged the gap between the classical Opera style we know so well and the musicals we watch/listen to everyday. Operettas were some of the first shows that told a story through both song and dialogue. This show, Pirates of Penzance, is generally regarded as a classic and a family favorite for all generations. It follows the tale of an indentured pirate, Frederic, as he is relieved of his pirate service and then vows to end the scourge of piracy. On his first day off the ship he encounters a Major General and all of his daughters, the fairest one being Mabel.

 Photo: "C. King Photography"

Photo: "C. King Photography"

Conflict appears when Frederic is informed by his old caretaker Ruth and his old captain, The Pirate King, that he may not be as free from his pirate service as he thinks. All the while being a laugh riot for the audience.

This show was excellent in many ways but perhaps its greatest achievement was how well it was able to capture the sense of parody and farce that Gilbert and Sullivan intended it to have. They added 4th wall breaks to entertain the audience, they gave us excellent comedic timing on the lines, they had great comedic direction when it came to physicality, they even had a sword fight with the conductor. It’s easy to lose a lot of the humor surrounding this show as it is written in a musical style that is considered old fashion these days, but we mustn’t forget this show was written to be funny and to poke fun at society, class systems, and of course, other musicals. The company and crew understood that perfectly and delivered it so well and convincingly that if felt like the show could have been written yesterday. I didn’t want it to end!

There were standout performances all around this show. Elizabeth Albert (Ruth) gave such a great and comedic portrayal of an older women begging for Frederic’s affection. Frankie Thams gave a phenomenal performance as Frederic, singing and acting the part perfectly. The role of Mable calls for serious vocal talent and Katie Davis had enough to spare! She sang beautifully and added a little feistiness into Mabel’s character that isn’t usually seen, making us like her character much more. Matthew R. Wilson gave a hilariously brilliant portrayal as the Major General, acting as a median between the audience and the action on stage. Dan Morton also showed his wonderful physical humor and talented dance moves as the Sergeant. It is indeed a glorious thing to be a Pirate King and Russell Rinker proved it. He was indeed the crowd favorite of the night and mine as well, showing wonderful humor and vocal skill to create the perfect character. This show also included a very professional ensemble, with standout leading ensemble performances by Sarah Summerwell, Madelyn Pyles and Josh Walker.

This production was wonderfully directed by Jeremy Scott Blaustein, with stylized choreography by Trey Coates-Mitchell. As stated above, they both captured the true spirit of humor in this show, having jokes that could have been right out of a David and Jerry Zucker movie. This show also featured a whimsical yet stunning set, with Scenic Design by Michael “Jonz” Jones. Under the musical direction of Karen Keating, the cast and orchestra seemed musically flawless. Gilbert and Sullivan may be the only thing harder to perform musically than Sondheim, and they all pulled it off!

I don’t say this often but this show is a MUST SEE. It’s up till the end of this weekend at Shenandoah University in Winchester Va. Tickets can be bought here . Don’t miss out!