The Pirates of Penzance | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Pirates of Penzance


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THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. This revival of Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 operetta--about an apprentice pirate torn between duty to his buccaneer brethren and his love for the daughter of a military officer--draws equally on D'Oyly Carte tradition and the campy revisionism of Wilford Leach's brilliant 1981 staging for the New York Shakespeare Festival. The result veers from delicious delicacy to lowbrow vulgarity. The singing is generally superb--in particular the warbling of romantic leads James Keith and Kelly Anne Clark and the thunderous chorus numbers. And some bits are inspired, including a corps of tap-dancing policemen, director-choreographer Marc Robin's most original contribution.

But too often the actors push for laughs rather than letting them emerge from the characters' eccentricities. Sean Allan Krill's hammy Pirate King could have come straight out of a third-rate rep company's Peter Pan, and while Don Forston sings up a storm as "the very model of a modern major general," his fey antics make one wonder how this pudgy old poofter ever produced seven lovely daughters. The show hits bottom when Krill, Keith, and Alene Robertson as the pirate nursemaid start laughing at their own jokes--a device as tedious now as it was in the heyday of The Carol Burnett Show.

Still, the audience loved it--especially the kids. And if this show's lapses in taste help keep Gilbert's droll whimsy and Sullivan's sublime melodies alive for a new generation, weaned on the dumbed-down, exploitative drivel that dominates children's TV today, who can complain?

--Albert Williams

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