I have a confession to make. One that is somewhat shameful for a theater critic to admit.
I’d never seen a Gilbert & Sullivan production.
My interest in live theater has always skewed towards the performative, experimental and experiential, with a love for actors, poetry and subtle emotions. Gilbert & Sullivan, with their deliberately over-the-top comic operas, never appealed to me, and their production today seems to appeal to fans of classical music and opera more than followers of musical theater.
It was consequently an eye-opener to see Gilbert & Sullivan Austin’s new production of “The Pirates of Penzance,” playing through June 25 in the Worley Barton Theater at Brentwood Christian School. Overcoming my prejudices and experiencing the work of librettist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan first-hand showed me which aspects of my suppositions were right and which were wrong.
The focus of Gilbert & Sullivan Austin’s “The Pirates of Penzance” is, to be sure, the music. Most of the performers are classically trained musicians, rather than trained actors and actresses, and the entire cast, from the impressive soprano of Suzanne Lis as Mabel to the rich baritone of Russell Gregory as the Sergeant of Police, sounds wonderful, even if they falter a bit during the dialogue sequences (though the richly baroque comedy of Sam Johnson as the Pirate King is a strong exception to this). The impressive Gillman Light Opera Orchestra, under the baton of music director Jeffrey Jones-Ragona, is also to be praised.
However, within that musical emphasis, there is an extraordinary amount of poetry to be found, from Sullivan’s rich score, to Gilbert’s complicated rhymes and still-punchy comedic patter, to the vocal nuances of the talented singers.
Director/choreographer Ralph MacPhail Jr. puts the full emphasis of the production on those singers, whose mellifluous tones capture the satirical whimsy of a plot full of deliberately silly twists and turns, focusing on a group of not-so-terrible pirates, virginal young women and cowardly policemen.
If you’re a Gilbert & Sullivan virgin yourself, you’ll find that Gilbert & Sullivan Austin’s “Pirates of Penzance” is an excellent primer for their work. If you’re already a fan, this production is right up your alley.
“The Pirates of Penzance”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through June 25, with additional matinee 2 p.m. June 24
Where: Worley Barton Theater at Brentwood Christian School, 11908 N. Lamar Blvd.