WEST VALLEY CITY — I always find myself wary when attending “classical” shows. You know the ones: The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Hello Dolly!, Carousel, etc.. They come with a dangerous amount of potential to be a stale, slow show with always-too-long songs. I’m happy to report that the Hale Centre Theatre’s rendition of one of the classical operettas, The Pirates of Penzance, was anything but stale. An energetic cast, colorful design, and expertly delivered music kept the show alive, interesting, and—most of all—fun.
The Pirates of Penzance premiered in 1879, one of the collaborative results of Gilbert and Sullivan. It tells the tale of Fredrick who, after being mistakenly apprenticed to pirates (instead of pilots), finds himself finished with an apprenticeship (having been legally bound until his 21st birthday) and ready to re-enter “honorable” civilization. He assumes his duty at that time will be to find the pirates and have them arrested and killed for their criminal acts. Upon reentry, though, he immediately meets the beautiful Mabel, daughter to a Major General, and finds himself face-to-face the pirate band again and again–not to mention his own devotion to duty when he discovers his birthday falls on leap day, February 29. This discovery reveals he has only had 5 birthdays, therefore indenturing him to the pirates for another 63 years. Dilemma.
I particularly enjoyed the attention to design detail that I am quickly learning is a trademark of the Hale Centre Theatre. Each element carefully and solidly built the world of the show. Plants and rocks outlined the stage and continued up into the audience. To introduce the pirates, a ship filled the stage, and a whimsical costume design brought them to life. Not only did the design unify the characters with their world, it also brought the audience in: clouds hung from the theater ceiling and made sure the entire audience felt like they were inside this storybook world. The Hale did a great job utilizing their in-the-round space, and never once did I feel like I any one side of the theater missed any action.
While I didn’t always know what was happening amidst the stellar cadenzas and fast-paced singing (I recommend you read a plot synopsis before you go), we enjoyed every second of the production. Speaking of the music, it deserves more than a passing mention. We were given beautifully rich solos and perfectly balanced chorus numbers. Austin Dorman played an innocent and honorable Fredrick with a voice to match. Camella Canete brought a controlled nobility to her Mabel, and her high notes absolutely filled the theater. Notably impressive was the ensemble work by both the pirates and the sisters; each group reacted as one consistently throughout the show, both in song and movement. Standout performances, however, went to Ruth and the Major General. From their energy and character commitment, Jennifer Parker Hohl (Ruth) and Bryon Finch (the Major General) obviously loved their characters, their fellow cast members, and the production as a whole. While Pirates is a light opera (“light” in terms of music and subject matter) and filled with wit, Hohl and Finch provided an extra dose of comedy that was much appreciated by the audience. Director/choreographer Marilyn May Montgomery can be proud of the performances that she helped engineer form all these talented actors.
My favorite moment of the show had to be the “Hail Poetry” chorus, a song when the lights brightened on the entire cast as they sang a cappella in wonderful harmony, “Hail Poetry, though heaven-born maid! Thou gildest even the pirate’s trade. Hail flowing fount of sentiment! All hail! All hail! Divine emollient!” There was power in their voices, and an obvious passion for their successful production: an aged, silly story gilded in song, dance, color, light, and humor.