By Ian Rigg
Ahoy, matey! Tickets to Music Theater Works’ production of Pirates of Penzance make great loot.
The Evanston company’s mounting of Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic caper on the high seas do be a side-splitting summer yarn that plunders the Cahn (Auditorium) for all the chortles and guffaws it can. Arrrr.
Okay, so these pirates’ loquacious vernacular is particularly posh and genteel, but the show’s spirit of farcical fun pairs well with a commendable craftsmanship and respect for its forebears in director Rudy Hogenmiller’s vision. He set the course, and his merry band makes it set sail.
Joe Schermoly’s scenic design is the lynchpin of this production – a paradisiacal cove in Act 1 and gasp-worthy ruined Gothic cathedral in the second. He would be the show’s brightest star were it not for Jana Anderson, whose dazzling and detailed costumes bring the color and character the piece needs to thrive. Her choice of fabrics and accessories is a veritable treasure chest of its own. Andrew H. Meyers lights the stage with a technicolor eye, Aaron Quick’s sound crosses the seven seas, and Sean McStravick and Katie Beeks made sure this massive undertaking went swimmingly.
The chorus swells and swashbuckles with the best of them under the capable conducting of Linda Madonia, master of the vocal tides. She is also in astounding command of the 26-piece orchestra. With Madonia at the wheel, the ship is set for Success Island.
On that ship rides a talented crew of actors. The aforementioned chorus is unassailable, each giving a world of charisma, and carrying Clayton Cross’ picture-worthy and acrobatic choreography without a hitch.
Larry Adams has the swashbuckling bluster for a noteworthy, noble Pirate King. With the charisma of Errol Flynn and the limber lack of vestibular balance of Captain Jack, his bravado entertains endlessly.
With Eddie Redmayne’s haircut and the ideal cross of foppish ingénue meets dashing hero, Ben Barker’s kinesthetic Frederic is smartly self-aware – with a smashing singing voice to match.
A true blue friend to the stage, Nancy Hays brings her charm to a wry and raucous Ruth.
A Major General has never moved as gracefully as James Harms, and his locomotive mouth musters the requisite song. He is indeed the Very Model of a Modern Major General.
There could be no better sign-off to the show than a reprise of “Poor Wand’ring One” by in-demand, immaculate soprano Cecilia Iole, and her emotive and empathetic Mabel.
Music Theater Works makes for an enjoyable, carefree night of theater. With Hogenmiller at the helm of a pleasant voyage, the wise captain knows that sometimes one doesn’t need to reinvent the material: there just needs to be the craft, cast and crew to tell the tale.
Heave-ho, me hearties: gather your own band of misfits, and prepare to board “The Pirates of Penzance” before it sails away on June 17. For a treasure map, click here. Photos by Brett Beiner.