Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Very Special Holiday Special by Changing Scene NW

A Jew’s-eye view of Christmas
by Michael Dresdner
L to R: Betzy Miller, Julie Cole 

Last night at the Dukesbay Theater, a newish group called The Changing Scene NW presented Pavlina Morris’ direction of A Very Special Holiday Special, a collection of very short plays by Mark Harvey Levine.

The cast, consisting of Chelsea Pedro, Larry Chandler, Carol Weltschnig, Douglas Ernst, Betzy Miller, Karen Noyes, and Curtis Beech tried valiantly to eke some comedy out of what I would call a very flawed property.
L to r: Carol Weltschnig, Chelsea Pedro

Admittedly, this series of vignettes about Christmas and Channukah were based on plausible ideas, the sorts of things that if you just read the set up, you’d say “Sure, that could be quite funny.” Little of it was.

Based solely on this collection, I’d call Levine’s work superficial, ham-handed, unoriginal, sophomoric, and more than a little insulting to a wide swath of the populace. That, combined with the much printed information that his work is so widely presented (“over 1500 productions”) makes me wonder why this was mounted at all, since The Changing Scene, the group behind this show, claims their mission is to show “…new, original, unproduced, or innovative works.” This was none of the above.

I won’t go into tech, costumes, set, acting, or directing critiques here, since I strongly suspect (and know for a fact in several cases) that this was very far from the best work done by the director, tech crew, or cast. Frankly, some considerable talent was wasted on this property.  

For example, the first play, “Oy Vey Maria,” has baby Jesus in a manger with his parents there, all being visited by the proverbial Three Wise Men, but also by Mary’s parents, a time-transplanted east coast suburban Jewish couple. Their portrayal is heavily laden with every trite Jewish stereotype, from a hokey New York/New Jersey accent to the mother whining incessantly, but bringing a brisket for the new parents. There’s a line between funny satire and insult, and this crosses it again and again.

“You Better Watch Out” is a riff on the so-called war on Christmas, with a Buddhist couple invaded by the Christmas police (in this case, military) who demand they decorate their apartment, and cringe whenever anyone says Happy Holidays. It ended oddly with Santa chiding the intruders for disrespecting the Buddhists, but then all three bowing with pressed hands and saying “Namaste,” which, as you probably know, is Hindu. Perhaps that’s supposed to be funny.

“A Very Special Hannukkah Special” has a Jew spinning a magic dreidle to make Hannukkah the dominant holiday instead of Christmas. Of course it all goes wrong, but not before the playwright slips in lines from classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” to make what I’d call a rather weak premise a bit more familiar. Some of the jokes seem aimed solely at other Jews, clearly not the mass audience in this area. For instance, the maker of the magic dreidle explains that to get your wish it must land on nun, prompting the line “Why would it land on a nun?” Nuun is one of the four Hebrew letters on a dreidle, and the joke relies on both knowing about dreidles and mispronouncing the letter as “nun.” Tell me honestly; do goyim (non-Jews) even get that joke?

Other vignettes have a talking Christmas tree who wants to go back to the forest, a lonely woman who can’t understand her dog and cat’s attempts to make her feel good, a drunk who accidentally destroys a child’s belief in Santa, and a parody of Les Miserables. See what I mean? These are potentially good topics, but most simply did not work.

What is most disturbing about this work, though, is the fact that it is childish humor that appears to be designed for sharing only among Jews, and only up until junior high. In short, it’s the sort of comedy that demeans both its targets and its creators.

A Very Special Holiday Special
Dec. 1 to Dec. 16, 2017
The Changing Scene (presented at the Dukesbay Theater)
https://changingscenenorthwest.org/


Friday, December 1, 2017

Seussical the Musical at TLT

Phantasmagorical!
by Michael Dresdner

All photos by Dennis K Photography 

Oh, the things that you’ll see when you go to theater!
A cast of weird characters in costumes much weirder,
All singing and dancing with words that all rhyme!
I promise you’ll have a superbly good time.

Ok, ok, I’ll stop. I know – I’m no Dr. Seuss, but here’s the real lowdown.

Tacoma Little Theatre is easing into the Christmas season with Seussical the Musical, a joyously exuberant, fast-paced, unabashedly endearing offering laced with outstanding performances from top to bottom.

L to r: Kathy Kluska, Olivia Zamira, Sharry O'Hare, Alexandria Bray, Micheal O'Hara, Gunnar Ray, Andrew Fry

Much to her credit, director Jen York has put together the perfect cast, and backed by Terry O’Hare’s buoyant musical direction and the more than impressive choreography talents of Eric Clausell, has unleashed a high-spirited, thoroughly enjoyable show that hits the mark in every category.

All this plays out on a stage, by Blake York, that looks for all the world like it came directly from Seuss’ own hand, with an eye-popping array of colorful and outrageous costumes by Michele Graves, magnificently comical props, wigs, and makeup by Jeffery Weaver, and an ever-changing panorama of lighting by Niclas Olson. And let’s not forget stage manager Dana Galagan and her ASM Alyshia Collins who somehow managed to keep the non-stop whirligig of sight and sound moving apace flawlessly.

Steve Barnett (Horton the Elephant) 
As far as the plot content goes, it's a mash up of a dozen and a half of Dr. Seuss most dearly loved characters and stories (the Grinch and Whoville, Horton Hatches an Egg, The Butter Battle Book, The Circus McGurkus, and many more,) so it is comfortably familiar, yet refreshingly new. 

And the actors? Ah, what a delight.

L to r: Alexandria Bray (Jojo) and Christopher Sweet (The Cat in the Hat )

The Cat in the Hat, the emcee of the action, is played by Christopher Sweet, a tall, lanky, rubber-limbed marionette reminiscent of Joel Gray’s amazing Cabaret portrayal. Assisting him is Jojo (Alexandria Bray,) the young, vivacious daughter of the mayor of Whoville with a personality that fairly bursts off the stage and a talent to match. They are, like absolutely everyone in the cast, classic triple threats, able to sing, dance, and act with practiced ease, often all at the same time.   

L to r:  Smantha Lobberegt  (Mayzie)  and Brittany Griffins (Gertrude)
Rarely have I seen a cast with so many serious, obviously trained singers, which in case you were wondering, is a big step above mere musical theatre singers. Leading the pack are two ruby-throated warblers, the birds Gertrude (Brittany Griffins) and her nemesis Mayzie (Smantha Lobberegt.) They are ably backed by a singing, dancing bird quartet (Caiti Burke, Emma Konop, Jayda Slack, and Maddie Fry) who bring to mind the “Dinettes” of Pump Boys fame.

The Bird Girls: Emma Konop, Caiti Burke, Maddie Fry
Equally powerful in voice is the Sour Kangaroo (Courtney Eggert) assisted by her charmingly diminutive sidekick, Young Kangaroo. That role alternates between Caleb Corpeno and Evie Merrill. The night I was there I was lucky enough to watch Evie, a precocious pixie whose photo must surely be in the dictionary under “indescribably adorable.” And let’s not forget Horton the Elephant himself, who is ever so sweetly played by rich-voiced Steve Barnett.  

L to r: Micheal O'Hara (Mayor of Whoville), Sharry O'Hare (his wife), Alexadria Bray (Jojo)
Tucked away in the cast like an Easter egg waiting to delight us is Tacoma’s own version of the Lunt-Fontannes; that redoubtable pair, Micheal O'Hara and Sharry O'Hare, playing the mayor of Whoville and his wife. And that’s just the leads; the rest of the ensemble is right up there with the reigning talent on stage.  

The bottom line is that I can’t say enough good things about this play. If you are one of the many of us buffeted by the gruesome reality of politics, the state of the world, and the impending onslaught of holiday stress, this may be the best chance to leave it all behind and let pure joy wash over you.

So please, go to see it as soon as you can.  
I assure you, like me, you’ll become a true fan.
(Uh oh. I’m sorry. I did it again,
but it’s easy to slip into rhyme now and then,
especially after a night such as this
when the theatre just gave you two hours of bliss!)

Enough already. Buy tickets. Reward yourself. This is a truly wonderful theatrical offering.

Seussical the Musical
Dec. 1 to Dec. 24, 2017
Tacoma Little Theatre
http://www.tacomalittletheatre.com/

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Blithe Spirit at TLT

Open wide and séance
by Michael Dresdner
All photos by Dennis K Photograpy
After opening the season with a silly farce, Tacoma Little Theatre has moved on to a more elegant, cerebral, and very British comedy, Noel Coward’s classic play Blithe Spirit. Directed by the theatre’s artistic director Chris Serface and played out on an absolutely gorgeous set designed by Judy Cullen, it’s the perfect fare for the Halloween season; a period piece set in 1940 dense with witty dialog, interesting characters, and the requisite mix of mediums, séances, and spirits, both liquid and ethereal.
Jed Slaughter as Charles Condomine 
Witty, urbane author Charles Condomine (Jed Slaughter), a widower, and his equally sharp second wife Ruth (Deya Ozburn) are a happy, loving couple, busily trying to get Edith (SarahLynn Mangan), the new maid, to slow down and add some stately decorum to her manner, and in turn to their manor. Strictly for the purpose of research for a book, the completely skeptical couple invites a bicycle-riding local medium, the flamboyant, quirky Madame Arcati (Dana Galagan) to conduct a séance with them and their friends Dr. Bradman (John Saunders) and his wife Violet (Darla Smedley.) Hey, what could possibly go wrong?
Deya Ozburn as Ruth Condomine 
Amid the requisite banging, wobbling, and table tipping, they accidentally bring the spirit of Charles’ first wife, Elvira (Brittany D. Henderson) back from the dead and into the house. Of course, only Charles can see and hear her, making for some interesting confusion and contention with Ruth, who not only doesn’t believe him, but thinks his annoyed comments to Elvira are directed at her. Despite entreaties and more séances, Arcati is powerless to send her back to the nether world.
Dana Galagan as Madame Arcati 

Flirtatious and coquettish, Elivra still adores Charles, and soon plots to get him to join her on “the other side.” Instead, she accidently kills Ruth, who soon shows up as ghost number two, and along with Elvira, makes Charles’ life anything but serene.
L to R: Brittany D. Henderson as Elvira, Jed Slaughter as Condomine. 
The leads in this cast were all excellent. Slaughter played Charles with his usual measured reserve, perfectly fitting for the English gent he is. Ozburn gave us a convincingly crafted Ruth, ranging from confidently haughty to beset and fractured as her normal world crumbles around her. Galagan’s Arcati steered just the right course; strange enough to be viewed as decidedly odd by the local gentry, but who clearly is serious about her craft. But for my money, Henderson’s sexy, relentless, ghostly first wife managed to eke by them all with the best portrayal of Elvira I’ve ever seen. 
L to R: John Saunders as Dr. Bradman, Darla Smedley as Violet Bradman
Costuming by Michele Graves was excellent and true to both the characters and the period. Hair and makeup, along with the many props, both breakable and not, were, as usual, in the capable hands of Jeffery Weaver. The sound (Dylan Twiner) had some quirks opening night, as did the lighting (Niclas Olson), but that’s to be expected, especially with such a technically complex piece.

The final scene, in which the two spirits wreck the house in a frenzy of frustration, makes this one of the toughest plays to call, so stage manager Nena Curley and her minions deserve a call out for service above and beyond.

If you like your spirits funny and quirky rather than gross and scary, I can’t think of a better piece of Halloween fun than this delightful, well-paced, and superbly acted comedy. Definitely, put it on your “go see it” list.  

Blithe Spirit
Oct. 20 to Nov 5, 2017
Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Rumors at TLT

Farce from the madding crowd
by Michael Dresdner
L to R: Jess Allen, Mark Peterson, Jeffery Swiney-Weaver, Matt Garry, Houston White.  Photos by Dennis K Photography

Tacoma Little Theatre opened its 99th season last night with Rumors, a genuinely hilarious farce from the redoubtable Neil Simon. Director Erin Manza Chanfrau assembled an outstandingly talented ensemble cast of largely experienced local actors to create a fast-paced farce layered thickly with both physical and verbal comedy. Think of it as several great episodes of a silly sitcom all stacked and interwoven into a two hour romp.

As is often the case with such properties, there is less of a plot than a series of set-ups designed for maximum laughs. The gist of act I is a collection of well-heeled, highly educated friends coming to a party that has obviously gone south before it started, hosted at the elegant home of the deputy mayor and his wife, neither of whom we ever see on stage.
L to R: Jill Heinecke, Matt Garry

The first to arrive are a pair of lawyers. Clair Gorman (Jess Allan) is an overwrought recently-quit smoker who is dying for a cigarette, and hubby Ken (Mark Peterson) who is upstairs trying to make sense of, and keep a lid on, the fact that they arrived to a sumptuous home with no food prepared, the deputy mayor in his room with a (minor) gunshot wound, and both his wife and the staff missing. Soon Lenny (Matt Garry) and wife Claire (Jill Heinecke) arrive having been in an accident with his brand new BMW on the way, and add to the confusion.
L to R: Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson, Jeffery Swiney-Weaver

Next up, Ernie Cusak (Jeffery Swiney-Weaver), a psychiatrist, and his wife Cookie (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson), a TV cooking show host, add their mishegas to the mix. By now a second mostly harmless gunshot has rendered Ken Gormann temporarily deaf, so that he misunderstands pretty much everything that is said, adding another layer of misunderstanding to the already overflowing tomfoolery.  Finally, Glenn Cooper (Houston White), who is running for the State Senate and is understandably nervous about being involved in anything that the press could exploit, arrives with his wife Cassie (Kristen Blegen Bouyer), an elegant, new-age crystal-loving woman of somewhat spongy sexual ethics. As utter pandemonium reigns, TV host Cookie, in spite of her repeated debilitating back spasms, manages to make everyone an excellent dinner by the end of act I.
L to R: Kristen Blegen Bouter, Houston White 

By the time act II opens, Glen and Cassie have devolved into a fight just outside the house when the police arrive. Two cops (Neicie Packer and Andy Bravo) come to investigate both the car accident and the two gunshots. They get an assortment of obvious lies and cover-ups from everyone, capped off by a long, convoluted, hysterical nosebleed of a story from Lenny (posing as the host) “explaining” everything. Eventually the police give up, leaving us to hear just one more surprise from the addled and exhausted cast of characters.
L to R: Matt Garry, Andy Bravo, Neicie Packer, Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson

I know I’ve said this before in reviews, but this play, while completely engaging and full of rapid fire comedy, could benefit from some nuance. Let’s just say there’s a bit too much volume and angst for the number of players on stage.  

An absolutely gorgeous Mondrian-influenced set, the elegant home of the hosts, was designed by Blake York, and is worth staring at all on its own. It was magnificent, from the glass corner wall to the outside to the fabulous built in bar. Costumes by Michele Graves were excellent, as was hair, make-up, and props by cast member Jeffery Weaver (Ernie Cusak, the doctor.)  Spot-on set painting by Ana Bury and sound design (kudos for the superp “other side” of the cop’s walkie talkie conversation) by Chris Serface and lighting by Niclas Olson rounded out the production. Because they did such a great job, a special nod to the paint crew; Jen York, Gunnar Johnson, and Frank Roberts.

There’s not a dull moment, literally, in this well-crafted comedy, making it a welcome break from the daily slog of our current reality. Not surprisingly, the opening night audience ate it up with a spoon, and laughed their way through to the end.  

Rumors
Sep 15th to Oct 1, 2017
Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Wait Until Dark at Lakewood Playhouse

A Whole Lotta’ Actin’ Goin’ On
by Michael Dresdner

L to R: Deya Ozburn (Suzy), Mari Dowd (Gloria)   All photos by Tim Johnston 

For their 79th season opener, Lakewood Playhouse chose the genuinely scary and viscerally upsetting psychological thriller Wait Until Dark. If the phrase “fright night” appeals to you, this play is just the ticket. 

As the plot is rather convoluted, the play, set in the mid 60's, spends the first act explaining the set up. As a result, it comes off as a bit tedious, especially compared with what is to come in act two. Since it is a thriller, I can’t tell you much about act two without giving away surprises, but that’s where the thrills and chills are, along with the inevitable deaths this somewhat grisly play serves up.

John Munn (Roat)

Roat (Lakewood’s Artistic Director John Munn) is a genuine bad guy (we know this because, among other things, he wears black) on the trail of a heroin-filled doll that was passed off to an unsuspecting man named Sam (Ben Stahl) at the airport. Sam takes it home to a dark, basement flat in NYC where he lives with his recently blinded wife Suzy (Deya Ozburn). The doll disappears, but when Sam leaves town for work, three shady characters show up to con, search, and bully Suzy into giving up the doll.

Jed Slaughter (Mike)


Roat, the ring leader, has hired two ex-cons, Mike (Jed Slaughter) and Carlino (Kerry Bringman) to help find it. The three men take on various roles in a good guy/bad guy set-up designed to con Suzy into giving them the doll. Their attempts fail, in part due to a somewhat petulant young girl named Gloria (Mari Dowd) who lives upstairs and, at her best, helps Suzy with chores and observations.

Mari Dowd (Gloria) 

With Gloria’s help and eyes, Suzy figures out the con, finds the heretofore missing doll, and hides it. She then darkens her apartment to level the field before Roat, her true adversary and tormenter, returns. It’s a cat and mouse game played out in the dark in which both parties trade off having the upper hand.

The role of Suzy casts Ozburn as arguably the hardest working actor in the South Sound. As the lead, she not only has to constantly play blind, but is put through as rigorous a physical workout as you are likely to see onstage, and a range of emotions to match, from meek and trusting to gutsy and wary, with relieved and terrified thrown in for good measure. It’s a tough role, and Ozburn deserves kudos for her exhaustive work.

Kerry Bringman (Carlino) 

That’s not to diminish the work of the rest of the ensemble, mind you. Bringman, for instance, is charged with playing a role within a role as a small time hood called on to portray a police sergeant.

Interestingly, Ozburn and Munn, the denouement antagonists, have a prior history of playing the bully male and disadvantaged but courageous female, and they work very well together. They brought to mind a recent run of Oliver in which she adroitly played the bullied, eventually killed Nancy to Munn’s abusive lover Sykes.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank two actors, Slaughter (Mike) and Dowd (Gloria), for bringing some much appreciated normalcy to a stage filled with acting extremes. Their convincingly realistic and endearingly understated characters were a welcome contrast to the angst-filled proceedings.  
  
All this takes place on a set designed by Jonathan Hart with set dressing and props by Karrie Morrison. It was a believable basement apartment in NYC, in spite of a handful of anachronisms and anomalies that true theatre buffs will have no doubt noticed. Costumes by Diane Runkel and Virginia Yanoff were as good as expected, as was lighting by Aaron Mohs-Hale and sound design by the play’s director, James Venturini. In a very physical, action-filled play like this, the fight choreographer, Casey Brown, also deserves a call out.

At its core, this play is all about heart-pounding terror, and while it’s a bit early for our annual Halloween rush, it should be gripping and upsetting enough for any fright fan. 

Wait Until Dark
Sept. 8 to Oct. 8 2017
Lakewood Playhouse


Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance at TLT

Dark Horse Opera
by Michael Dresdner

L to R: Bert (Chris James), Ransome (Jacob Tice), Hallie (Jill Heinecke)  All photos by Dennis K Photography

A classic western called The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance opened last night at Tacoma Little Theatre, but this play is far more complex and nuanced than the famous movie version of the tale.

Directed most adroitly by David Domkoski, this is a play that goes well beyond both the scope and quality of the thin plots and stereotypical characters in many horse operas. What really made it exceptional was the outstanding ensemble cast.

Scene one opens with Senator Ransome Foster (Jacob Tice) returning to the small western town of Twotrees for the funeral of a man he obviously admires, but hadn’t spoken to in 20 years. It then goes quickly to flashback for the bulk of the play, triggered by the questions of a reporter (Margret Parobek in a sadly small role.)
Burt Barricune (Chris James)

Decades ago, Foster, an educated east coast greenhorn, arrived in the town after being beaten and left for dead on the road by Liberty Valance (Mason Quinn) and his gang. He’s hauled unconscious into the saloon by a tall, strong, capable cowboy and crack shot named Bert Barricune (Chris James) who plops him on the bar. There he’s revived and tended to by saloon owner Hallie Jackson (Jill Nicole Heinecke), aided by her longtime close friend and employee Jim Mosten (Nick Butler), a black man (yes, that’s key to the plot) who everyone calls The Reverend.
 

L to R: Sheriff (Ben Stahl), Hallie Jackson (Jill Heinecke)

The lackadaisical, play-it-safe sheriff, Marshal Johnson (Ben Stahl), arrives with his scruffy, taciturn deputy (Curtis Beech) and quickly decides to do nothing about the situation. After discovering Ransome’s satchel full of books and hearing some lines of Shakespeare, Hallie decides to let him stay at the saloon, but only after he offers to teach The Reverend, a savant with perfect recall, how to read.

L to R: Ransome (Jacob Tice) , Bert (Chris James)

Soon more of the town, including Hallie, are learning to read, something that does not sit well with quintessential bully, murderer, and classic bad guy Liberty Valance. He shows up with his sidekicks and kills a beloved character to get the town’s attention. When Foster straps on a gun bent on revenge, then asks Barricune to teach him to shoot, Valance returns to town for a shootout. Though it sounds thoroughly formulaic, don’t be fooled; there’s a turn of events you don’t expect, and a love story (or two) that you do.

L to R: The Reverend (Nick Butler), Ransome (Jacob Tice), Bert (Chris James) 

I really can’t say enough good things about this cast – all of them – for creating real, convincing, three-dimensional characters, something you don’t always find in a western. Tice plays Foster with just the right range of fear, bravado, and doubt; a complex man in a trying situation. Heinecke’s Jackson ranges from almost unapproachable tough gal to a woman with real love and feelings to offer, changing both accent and mannerismns to reflect the civilizing changes of two decades back east.

Chris James as Barricune is the classic adept cowboy with few words, but more than the expected dose of honor, who hides a soft heart behind a brawny exterior. Stahl’s sheriff is annoyingly uninvolved, exactly who the character is supposed to be.

L to R: The Reverend (Nick Butler), Liberty Valance (Mason Quinn)

There’s a scene in act one where Liberty Valance corners and intensely bullies The Reverend, and Quinn and Butler play it so well you can feel the tension and discomfort in your gut. In act two, a confrontation between Ransome and Liberty becomes a captivating exchange when both men outline and defend their life philosophy. Along with adding dimension and nuance to Valance’s character, it also reveals his disarmingly logical outlook and justification for who he is and what he does. That turns the lead up to the big showdown scene into a much more layered, and more interesting, encounter.

L to R: Ransome (Jacob Tice), Liberty Valance (Mason Quinn) 

As I find myself saying again and again during reviews, the set by Blake York, dressed by Jeffery Weaver and painted by Ana Bury, was absolutely perfect – exactly what we would envision for Twotrees’ saloon. Costume designer Michele Graves did a bang up job, obligingly putting the good guy in a white hat, the bad guy all in black, and making the tough saloon keeper look as masculine and dowdy as her character, no mean feat when you begin with Jill Heinecke.

L to R: Hallie (Jill Heinecke), Ransome (Jacob Tice)

Lighting, by Niclas Olson, was excellent, meaning too natural to notice. Similarly, gentle cowboy guitar music held sway both in the background beforehand and during scene changes. If you have your heart set on hearing the iconic movie theme song, you’ll have to wait until after final curtain.

To sum it all up, this play is good enough to captivate even those who don’t like westerns, and is an above and beyond treat for those who do.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
June 2 to June 18, 2017
Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Pirates of Penzance at Lakewood Playhouse

An ebullient fromage
by Michael Dresdner

Major-General Stanley (Gary Chambers)   all photos by Tim Johnston 
Last night, in place of the typically understated British comedy, Lakewood Playhouse served up a bouncy, slightly cheesy homage to the well-loved Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance.

Energetic, a bit goofy, and definitely colorful, it was a bit far afield from the well-known D'oyly Carte version. For instance, the pirates in the opening scene were clad not in makeshift seafaring garb, but in a piebald tableau of costumes (Rochelle-Ann Graham) ranging from the ridiculous to the expected. Even the Major-General carried a riding crop instead of the expected swagger stick. Fight scenes and dance movements were on the whole more picaresque than realistic, and often comically exaggerated, as if Monty Python snuck in during rehearsals.

The rather motley pirates 

For those needing it, the convoluted story line opens with Frederic (Fune Tautala), the male lead, on the day his indentured servitude on board the pirate ship ends – when he turns 21, though being a leap year baby, he’s had only five birthdays, a real sticking point later. Valuing obligation above all else, he says he was a loyal pirate but now that he’s free, his hatred of their criminal ways means he vows to destroy them, but not before he points out to the Pirate King (John Munn, who also directed) why they are such unsuccessful pirates. You see, they won’t fight anyone weaker, they lose to those who are stronger, and won’t harm orphans. Yes, you get it; their savvy victims all claim to be orphans.

L to R: Ruth (Sawrey), Frederic (Tautala), Pirate King (John Munn) 

His nurse, Ruth (Kathy Sawrey), the only female he’s ever seen, (hey, he’s been at sea with pirates!) assures him she is in fact beautiful as any woman. That works until he meets the daughters of Major-General Stanley (Gary Chambers), and in particular daughter Mabel (Allyson Jacobs-Lake), the female lead of the play. Ruth also explains Frederic was meant to be a pilot, but she misheard, and apprenticed him to pirates instead, the first of several intentional word association misunderstandings. (This is nautical and before airplanes, so a pilot is the person who steers a ship, not a flying ace.)
 
The Major-General's daughters 
The Major-General orders the police, led by Sergeant Edward (Derek Hall) to arrest the pirates, (they fail, but no matter) and all manner of mayhem, dancing, and silliness ensues until the lovers unite and everyone turns good, bound by their mutual loyalty to Queen Victoria.

Sergeant Edward (Hall) and his cops 
Technically, the production was excellent, from the deft control of the stage manager (Nena Curley) to such subtle touches as the lighting (Aaron Mohs-Hale) during fades ending with a final spot on the queen’s profile. The unusual set (Blake York) had a generously raised (three steps up) platform thrusting out from a fake traditional proscenium background replete with the obligatory cameo portrait of Queen Victoria in the center top. Inside the arch were several background paintings (Carrie Foster) that slid aside like curtains to change the location scenery.  

What was odd was that the orchestra, an outstanding three-piece group (musical director Deborah L. Armstrong, Gus Labayen, and either Tai Taitano or sub LaMont Atkinson) was in a large square pit smack in the center of the thrust stage. Though possibly a bit distracting, being in the center of the action meant they were able to perfectly monitor both pace and volume. On the other hand, it meant that most blocking, fighting, and dancing was restricted to a veritable catwalk surrounding them.

The singing was, on the whole, stronger when the ensemble joined in, though there were some highlights among the leads. Tautala (Frederic), while more of a musical comedy vocalist than an operatic one, was strong, clear, and easy to understand. Ditto for Sawrey (Ruth) and Jacobs-Lake (Mabel,) though all struggled with the occasional false notes and weaknesses, especially in the lower ranges.

Mabel (Jacobs-Lake) 
Chambers (the Major-General) did a fine job with his signature tongue-twisting song, though his character, with his stuffed teddy bear and slightly mincing ways, was more Brideshead Revisited than Col. Blimp. Throughout the cast English accents came and went more or less as needed, such as during the confusion about the words orphan and often, both pronounced “ah-fin.”

The packed house on opening night seemed to enjoy the production very much, either because of or in spite of its departure from the norm. It certainly served up a healthy dose of bright, enthusiastic energy, and that may be just what we need in these trying times.

The Pirates of Penzance
May 26 to June 25, 2017
Lakewood Playhouse