When I was high school (shout out to Andover High School Theatre and Ms. Johnson!) I attended many immersion theatre days at Park Square Theatre. These days were full of fun, learning and then, of course, a performance. Since then I've gone off to college, graduated and now am a college grad of coming on two years. That means I haven't seen a show there since 2012! So I was absolutely delighted to finally be able to return to Park Square for a production that has been getting rave reviews from fellow theatre lovers, and that's The Pirates of Penzance.
Gilbert and Sullivan's hilarious, hopeful farce follows young Frederic, an orphan who has mistakenly been apprenticed to an ineffectual but raucous band of pirates. He disavows the pirates' way of life and falls for the beautiful Mabel. Frederic's melodious tones win over the heart of Major-General Stanley's songbird daughter, Mabel, but when the Pirate King discovers that General Stanley has lied about being an orphan to keep the pirates from stealing all of his belongings and carrying off his bevy of beautiful daughters, an "ingenious paradox" may prevent the budding romance and lead to the death of "The very model of a modern Major-General."
First off this is the first Gilbert and Sullivan show I've seen and it was a delight. The craftsmanship in the writing, both dialogue, and music is spectacular. It's charming, witty and, of course, hilarious. The writing of each song is so carefully crafted but every line still serves a purpose, whether it's setting up a joke or landing it. This is an old opera that has been beautifully updated and modernized with new verses, more clever jokes and plenty of modern references. Director Doug Scholz-Carlson does a phenomenal job in keeping this show fresh by updating it and blending the history behind the show's creation and the actual show itself.
One of the most famous songs in the production is "I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" which is the epitome of a tongue twister. Christina Baldwin plays Helen Lenoir the Scottish producer who performs this song and plays the General. This was a fresh take on this song and role because it is normally not played by a woman. Not only that, but the song calls for a verse to be updated with a more modern and current reference. This song (along with a few other jokes and songs through out the production) added a feminist twist by referencing "Never the less, she persisted" made famous by Senator Elizabeth Warren. When she said those famous words, I just about jumped out of my seat. It's a brave decision to make a political joke in this current political climate but I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Brilliant decision. Brilliant casting in Lenoir. Just brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!
The whole cast really is on fire the entire production as the show originally is 10 roles plus an ensemble, Scholz-Carlson casts the best of the best and does this show with only 9 people. This 9 person cast embodies everything that is right and hilarious about this production. Their comedic timing is dynamite and their dedication to making the audience laugh is nonparallel. Some highlights in this cast include:
- Bradley Greenwald plays the Pirate King like a drunken sailor with some slurring, hilarious dialogue and a swash-buckling physicality of the role, very much like Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow.
- Elisa Pluhar, who plays Ruth, has an incredibly beautiful voice both embodying a little bit of modern typical Broadway belt with a mixture of tone that the score originally intended.
- Victoria Price, Elizabeth Hawkinson and Alice McGlave all play the General's daughters (including serving as Pirates and Policeman). Their voices are absolutely magnificent and blend so well together, I can't imagine a more perfect trio for these roles.
- Special shout out to Alice McGlave, who played Mabel, for her stunning arias!
- Max Wojtanowicz, a Twin Cities acting favorite who played Frederic, is not only charming but also kept me in stitches the entire time with his asides to the audience and wicked humor. Definitely an actor that I'd go to a show solely for the reason to see him!
Last but certainly not least is the set designed by Ursula Bowden. What I loved about this set is the ever changing set pieces. Never did I get bored with it because of the amount of large set pieces that were so three dimensional with different looks on each side. As the actors moved them around and spun them to reveal new sides, it consistently felt like a new scene, set or moment. I really applaud this effort and think that Scholz-Carlson's directing had the actors using the stage and set magnificently.
The Pirates of Penzance is a hilarious farce that was the perfect production to see with all the snow in Minnesota. It made for a great and spirit lifting evening for a night at the theater full of laughs and smiles. A wonderful production for anyone, especially theater lovers who may have not seen the production live before!
The Pirates of Penzance runs through March 25 at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul. Tickets and more information can be found here.
*Photo credit goes to Petronella J Ytsma