Saturday, July 27, 2013

5th Avenue's 'Pirates' is Historical Theatre Fun

Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” is one of oldest American musicals going back as far as 1879! With a show that is so old it makes one wonder if today’s audiences can still appreciate it, not to mention, actually enjoy it. Given the crowd’s reaction to last week’s performance at the 5th Avenue – they can!

Brandon O'Neill as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzanceat The 5th Avenue Theatre. (Credit Tracy Martin)
The storyline for “Pirates” is fairly simple. Frederick, a pirate apprentice, has just turned 21 and by doing so, he can now choose if a pirate’s life is for him or not. He chooses the latter and says ado to his former crew and instantly falls in love, as one does in musicals, with Mabel. She is just one of the seemingly dozens of daughters of the Major-General Stanley. However, due to the fact that Frederick was born on leap day, it is argued that he is actually just a little over the age of five and is forced to go back to the pirates. Meanwhile, the pirates have their sights on the rest the Major-General’s daughters forcing Frederick to fight against his love’s family. What’s a guy to do? How about a dance number?

While the storyline is simple, the production is not. This is one show that needs to be presented by a well-polished troupe. A cast anything less than the 5th Avenue standards would be a disappointment. Headlining the cast is local favorite, Brandon O’ Neill, playing the Pirate King. Word on the street, (or avenue for that matter) is that this just might be O’Neill’s last performance for the 5th Avenue as he may be moving to New York to reprise his role as Kassim in Disney’s “Aladdin,” which premiered here in Seattle two summers ago. He is joined by Hunter Ryan Herdlicka (Frederick) and the incredible Anne Allgood as Ruth, Fredrick’s nanny. Anne Eisendrath plays Mabel and David Pichette has the honor of playing Major-General Stanley.

What makes “Pirates” so much fun is not the plot but the tongue twisting songs, the over-the-top facial reactions and the silly puns. How this cast can remember the lyrics and sing them clearly is beyond me. For a sample, here are the lyrics to “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General:”
I am the very model of a modern Major-General,I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historicalFrom Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse. I'm very good at integral and differential calculus;I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
The Sergeant of Police (Jared Michael Brown, center)
 is the leader of a brigade of Canadian Mounties
Imagine singing the above lyrics. Then singing it again, but at twice the speed. This gives you an idea of what this show has in store for you. It isn’t for everyone, but “Pirates” is historical fun. To make it Northwest-friendly, the British army is replaced by Canadian mounties. By and large, the production is squeaky clean and non-confrontational, except for a brief political statement presented at the end, and even then, it’s just for laughs. The only drawback to this presentation, and this is where the musical shows its’ age, are a few very operatic songs. The singing isn’t any less talented, just…well…boring. However, to take them out would make it no longer a true Gilbert & Sullivan production.

“Pirates” is directed and choregraphed by James Rocco and Joel Fram not only leads the orchestra, but has a brief sword fight with the Pirate King. Katherine Strohmaier  and Jared Michael Brown serve as Dance Captain and Fight Captain respectively.

Pirates is currently playing at the 5th Avenue Theatre located at 1308 5th Avenue, Seattle, 98101. Performances continue through August 4. Tickets can be purchased online or by phone by calling 206.625.1900 or 888.5th.4TIX. (Originally posted on

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