The Pirates of Penzance | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Pirates of Penzance



Light Opera Works, at Northwestern University, Cahn Auditorium.

Though seemingly simple in its tuneful gaiety, Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 sardonic delight spoofs the Victorian fondness for justifying moral cowardice as moral duty. Frederic, the dim-witted hero, strictly observes an apprenticeship to a band of Cornwall pirates--even when the indenture turns out to be for 84 rather than 21 years.

Marc Verzatt's dutiful revival benefits from Pasquale Laurino's confident conducting. Sullivan's delicious melodies bloom in David Gaschen's effortless tenor, and his vocal assurance is matched by Amy Cochrane's sparkling coloratura as the warbling Mabel. The chorus, when they're not frantically miming gestures as if acting out the lyrics for foreigners, crisply convey the antics of the sentimental pirates, paranoid policemen, and simpering sisters.

A big hindrance is the capricious, intrusive miking, a technical crutch Light Opera Works has spared audiences until this season. A sample of the muffled mess: Johanna Drew's clothes were heard as much as her voice, and her voice fluctuated weirdly in volume, clarity, and direction. Miking works only when we don't know it's there--otherwise, for all we know, the performers are lip-synching to better voices. Another drawback is David Nisbet's clumsy, colorless Major-General Stanley; Nisbet botched his big patter song and, indulged by the director, reduced his lines--when he knew them--to vaudeville and his songs to burlesque. Nisbet is only a symptom of Light Opera Works' weakness for the cheap (yet costly) laugh. This penchant for pratfalls and anachronisms confesses a lack of faith in Gilbert's wit; when such shenanigans occasionally invade Sullivan's music, it amounts to vandalism.

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