Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Plenty of Swash, No Buckling in 5th Avenue's Rousing
The Pirates of Penzance

Also see David's review of We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Anne Allgood and Brandon O'Neill
W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan's timeless canon of jaunty operettas is probably most familiar to general audiences from The Pirates of Penzance, especially due to the riotous all-star Joe Papp produced 1980 revival led on Broadway by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Kevin Kline, George Rose, Rex Smith and Estelle Parsons. The 5th Avenue Theatre closes out its successful 2012-2013 season with a rousing production of the jaunty tale, full of humor, high energy and a wealth of great actor/singers to keep the ship full speed ahead.

The sassily silly story concerns a rogue band of boisterous buccaneers who at the outset are bidding adieu to their longtime matey Frederic, an affluent orphan lad erroneously apprenticed to them as a child, due to the scatterbrained actions of his nattering Nanny Ruth, who was supposed to place him with a pilot. Once on land, Ruth hopes her now grown former ward will engage her romantically. Frederic has decided, however, that he wants the chance to compare Ruth to other ladies and happens upon a comely group of girls who are the daughters of Major General Stanley. Frederic is instantly smitten with the youngest, Mabel, who takes to him as well. Though the Pirate King and his band have planned to abduct the girls and have their way with them, the Major-General schemes to convince them that he is, like they, an unfortunate orphan, and would be desolate to lose the girls. The soft-hearted swashbucklers are sympathetic and release the girls, making the Major-General Stanley and his daughters honorary members of their band.

Later, however, the Major-General is tormented by his lie. The Canadian Mounties (in this production, re-set in Vancouver) arrive to announce their plan to arrest the pirates. The fly in the ointment comes when Ruth and the Pirate King point out to Frederic that his apprenticeship was to end on his 21st birthday and, since he was born in a leap year on February 29, he is technically a 5-year-old, and thus still apprenticed. Frederic is convinced by this logic that he must rejoin the pirates, and thus he sees it as his duty to inform the Pirate King of the Major-General's deception. The outraged outlaw declares that their "revenge will be swift and terrible." No big spoiler to say that all is resolved in time for a happy ending, and multiple musical reprises.

Veteran director James A. Rocco's direction and choreography are in the rich, pure musical comedy tradition, but never veering into cheap high camp. His cast's characterizations are vigorous and not too cartoony, but still larger than life. Though not all of those charged with the most rat-tat-tat tongue twisting of Gilbert's lyrics are as adept at enunciation as others, the vividness, vocals and joie de vivre communicated by all concerned is palpable. Brandon O'Neill, comic twinkle in his eye, and radiating old-fashioned Errol Flynn star-power mixed with comic prowess, is a sensational Pirate King, and when he opens up his big voice on "I Am the Pirate King" you've no reason to doubt that claim. Hunter Ryan Herdlicka (Henrik in the Broadway Night Music revival) as Frederic is likewise sensational, conveying his character's outsized devotion to duty and showing off his tremendous tenor on "Oh There is Not One Maiden's Breast" and elsewhere. Herdlicka is ideally paired with Anne Eisendrath's daintily drawn and vividly vocalized ingénue Mabel, who couldn't be bettered on her chief vocal "Poor Wandering One."

David Pichette lends great stylized bravado and raffish charm to his buffoonish Major-General Stanley, enough to exempt him for not quite being, well, up to speed with the admittedly rapid-paced lyrics of his potential showstopper "I Am the Very Model of A Modern Major-General" (though one senses he'll ease into it during the run). Anne Allgood's Ruth goes smoothly from nattering Nanny to lusty pirate wench, and is especially captivating in the act two trio "When You Had Left Our Pirate Fold" ("A Paradox"). Jared Michael Brown is a square-jawed joy as the Mounties' stolid Sergeant of the Police, and Billie Wildrick, Cayman Ilika and Jenny Shotwell twinkle as three prominently featured daughters of the Major-General. The vivid company is laden with such capable local lights as Greg Stone, Ryah Nixon, Dane Stokinger, Kirsten deLohr Helland, Matt Owen, Michelle Ankrim, Matt Posner, Katherine Strohmaier, Heath Saunders, Lindsey Hedberg and Nick DeSantis. (It is also a lovely touch that there is a male/male coupling in the final clinches between the romantic pairs in the ensemble.)

The abundance of riches in the production cascades over into all the technical elements, from Tom Sturge's eye-dazzling scenery and lighting to Christine Tschirgi's splendid costumes, to some captivating new orchestrations by Bruce Monroe and Albert Evans which are well represented by musical director Joel Fram and a swell full orchestra.

A veritable treasure chest of riches, The Pirates of Penzance should capture many an audience member during Seattle's Sea Fair summer of 2013!

The Pirates of Penzance runs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through August 4th. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at

Photo: Mark Kitaoka

- David Edward Hughes

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