Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Rollicking Production of The Pirates of Penzance by The Lamplighters

Also see Richard's review of Sexual Perversity In Chicago

Anja Strauss and Charles Martin
The pirates are back in town - Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera masterpiece The Pirates of Penzance spins a hilarious farce of sentimental pirates, bumbling policemen, dim-witted young lovers, dewy eyed daughters, and an eccentric Major General - all morally bound to the often ridiculous dictates of honor and duty. The Lamplighters, now in its 52nd year as one of the top Gilbert and Sullivan companies in the county, is once again presenting this rollicking operetta under the direction of Jane Hammett. Hammett has made this production more campy, especially in the second act "dream scene" when the whole cast gets to camp it up.

The Pirates of Penzance had the honor of premiering simultaneously in England and America. It opened on December 31, 1879 at the Fifth Ave Theatre in New York with Sir Arthur Sullivan conducting the orchestra. Pirates opened but for a single performance at the Royal Bijou Theatre in Paignton, England to secure the British copyright. It finally appeared at the Opera Comique in London where it ran for 363 performances. The operetta is one of the duo's most famous offerings as it has been performed in every country since it first opened (it was my senior class play in 1944; I played the leader of policemen.)

Pirates is a combination of serious opera and a spoof on buccaneers. The operetta includes lovely arias, ballads, tongue-twisting patter songs and great choral work. F. Lawrence Ewing makes a good Major General but rushes through the patter songs a little too rapidly to be properly understood. Brian Frutiger (who alternates with Andrew Truett) has a full-flavored voice as the unfortunate "pirate in training" hoping to reach his 21st birthday so he can devote himself to eradicating his fellow pirates. However, the poor lad was born on February 29th and he was honor bound not to fulfill his wish until 1940. Anja Strauss (who alternates with Jennifer Ashworth) has a euphonic voice as Mabel as her tones are dulcet.

Behrend Eilers as the Pirate King with his striking, powerful voice gives a polished performance. Darla Wigginton (alternates with Kathleen Moss) as Ruth looks a lot like someone who would be on the old Carol Burnett television show and is wonderful as the "a pirate maid of all work." Charles Martin as the Sergeant of the police and his shambling policemen are rousing in second act. The pirate chorus gives an exaggerated performance while the ladies of the chorus do their bit of larger-than-life moves. The voices of the male and female chorus blend perfectly in the wonderful choral work.

Lamplighters' new conductor Robert Woods lends his artistry to the parody with a superb 21-piece orchestra that knows how to give a full and supportive sound to the tricky melodies of Sir Arthur Sullivan. The overture is first rate. Sets by Peter Crompton used in prior productions are used here. They are detailed painted flats and a backdrop that makes a pretty picture of Victorian times.

The Pirates of Penzance has just closed in San Francisco but will be playing at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts on February 2 through the 5th. For tickets call 925-943-7469 or visit

The Lamplighters will be presenting Show Boat in concert at Herbst Theatre On Friday, March 24th, Mountain View Center for Performing Arts on March 26th, Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, March 30-31 and Napa Valley Opera House on April 1. Visit for more information on tickets.

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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