Sunday, June 8, 2008

Pirates of Penzance full of sea foam and mirth

Mock’s Crest Theatre’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” delivered a silly yet heart-warming performance on Saturday evening at the Mago Hunt Theatre. The cast was outstanding as actors, but several principals needed more heft as singers. The newly renovated and expanded stage area seemed to challenge voices that didn’t project well, and perhaps some body microphones could have equalized the situation. Still, the frothy humor in this story about zany pirates, prim maidens, and inept bobbies always bubbled to the top and kept the audience in stitches.

Beth Madsen Bradford created a superb motherly nurse and her beautiful and robust mezzo easily filled the hall. Morgan Mallory convincingly portrayed the pirate apprentice Frederic, yet his light voice often didn’t match up well with the other principals. Corey Brunish as the dashing pirate chief had the charm and stage presence, but his singing. though pleasant, could barely be heard above the orchestra. In the role of the pirate lieutenant, Sammuel Hawkins displayed plenty of volume and really helped to boost some of the ensemble pieces. As the beautiful, young maiden Mabel, Tsipa Swan soubrette soprano could always be heard, but a little more weight in the voice and more volume would have helped.

John Vergin had oodles of fun in the role of Major General Stanley and his voice had enough power to be heard adequately. I really admired Vergin’s diction in the famous patter song, “I am the very model of at modern major general,” but, strangely enough, he kept getting out of sync with the orchestra. Russ Cowan made a fine sergeant of police, but needed more volume.

The pirates, maidens, and bobbies did a splendid job. The pirates, in particular, sang with zest and zeal, creating a lovable band that could never harm an orphan yet be quick to draw their swords at the slightest offence. The bonneted maidens were prim and proper to a tea and dutifully proud of their father, the ridiculous Major General. The bobbies put on their best keystone cops imitation, charming the audience with their ineptness.

Stage director Greg Tamblyn made good use of the enlarged stage, moving the story forward. Choreographer John Szerszen also created plenty of lively movement that worked very well. I liked the simple set of rocks that scenic designer Jeri Swatosh created for the sets. The traditional costumes by Darrin J. Pufall were spot on.

Conductor Roger O. Doyle paced the production well. The orchestra did a credible job although some intonation went awry here and there.

All in all, despite some vocal shortcomings, Mock Crest’s “Pirates of Penzance” is fine show and a great way to kick off the summer.


Mock's Crest's "Pirates of Penzance" runs Thursday through Sunday through June 29th.
For details click here.


Lorin Wilkerson said...

James and I randomly happened to attend the same performance, and I agree with most of what James heard. I had a devil of a time trying to figure out if the responsibility for the misalignment between soloist and orchestra during "Model" was due to John or the orchestra director. To my mind, in an opera, the orchestra should adjust to the soloist whenever possible, and should certainly be alert and more sensitive to the potential need for temporal adjustments during what is arguably the most well-known patter aria in the genre.

To me, the incident exposed an inherent flaw in the setup at Mago Hunt Theatre during Mock's Crest productions, and that is that the conductor has his back to the on-stage performers. I've noticed this mis-match between orchestra and singers in years past, but never so prominently as last Saturday night. I'm not sure what if anything can be done about it given the layout at this venue, but there it is.

Flaws aside, there were some wonderful choruses and great comedic moments, two of the main reasons we all still love G & S so much. It also bears mentioning that this was only the second performance in a long run; in another week things might really be humming along and some of the wrinkles ironed out.

James Bash said...

Hey Lorin,

Thanks for you fine comments, but you might not have seen the big TV screen that is above the audience and next to the projection booth. The TV runs to a monitoring TV that aimed at the conductor. So Vergin could see it clearly (unless it suddenly failed to funciton. I think that Vergin and Doyle should have figured out ahead of time which way they wanted to go.

I didn't see the TV right away, but I did see the cast look up - as if they were watching the conductor, so at intermission - after we chatted - I went to the stage and looked up and saw it. That's a real nifty way to circumvent the problem of placing the orchestra at the back of the stage.

Lorin Wilkerson said...

Thanks for the info much for my pet theory! ;0) I guess that does make a lot of sense.