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Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Pirates of Penzance
freeFall Theatre
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of 42nd Street


Sara DelBeato and Nick Lerew
Photo by Courtesy of freeFall Theater
Any resemblance between the extremely entertaining production of The Pirates of Penzance currently on at freeFall Theatre and a work with the same name by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan is purely coincidental. House music director Michael Raabe is credited with new vocal arrangements and orchestrations, and Artistic Director and director Eric Davis has adapted it. I remember when the Gilbert and Sullivan copyrights were expiring world wide and all the traditionalists (myself included) were fretting as to what was going to happen to our beloved canon of stage works. I guess I now have an answer: The Pirates of Penzance set in a Star Wars world, a "galaxy far, far away." The concept is well realized, but for my tastes they have gotten too far away from the original. There is no respect for the sound world of Sullivan, a baritone Frederick and mezzo Mabel as opposed to the much higher voices that he wrote for. The orchestrations seem a bit monochromatic and dull compared to Sullivan's. What we end up with is heavily weighted toward Gilbert's witty lyrics and dialogue and only Sullivan's basic tunes.

No matter for all my quibbles about the performing edition, as it all comes brilliantly alive in the production, displaying all the best that freeFall fosters. The action takes place on a multi-level setting by Matt Davis, instantly conjuring images of "Star Trek," such that I half expected someone to call out "beam me up, Scotty"—but alas, that is one cliche that was left in the rehearsal room. Amy J. Cianci has provided costume designs that remind me of the whimsy often seen on this stage in the past, most memorably in another Gilbert and Sullivan production, an all male The Mikado a few years ago. Synthetic wigs in purple and green for sisters Kate and Edith are a hoot, the get-up for poor Ruth is simply not to be believed, it is so over the top. Frederick seems strongly reminiscent of Luke Skywalker—has any leading man enjoyed sliding down a pole this much in the past two years? In the second act, Gilbert's Sargent of Police becomes Darth Vader and his chorus of Policemen morph into a Droid. It is here that Eric Davis' imagination, aided by the brilliant costume designs, reach its apex of hilarity.

Nick Lerew plays Frederick all bravado. This performance is more generic than his best work previously, notably Fabrizio in The Light in the Piazza. His leading lady Kaylin Seckel is miscast as Kate, lacking the soprano range so obviously called for. Still, her acting shows the fortitude that the character must have in order to brave the wrath of her father's expectations for her. Glenn Gover is that father, Major General Stanley, and brings exactly the right vocal chops and stage presence required for these Gilbert and Sullivan roles (many of which I have played myself). Hannah Benitez and Kelly Pekar play Mabel's two sisters, Kate and Edith. Hayden Milanes is the Pirate King, with Emanuel Carrero as his associate Pirate Samuel. As Ruth, Sara DelBeato dominates the stage every second that she is on. The completely over the top costuming and make up certainly helps. Robert Teasdale is the Sergeant of Darth Vader and doubles as a pirate in the first act. Will Garrabrant powers the Police Droid with great zest. Matt McGee makes an uncredited appearance as Queen Victoria, type casting if ever I have seen it.

In truth, traditional productions of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas can be very dull if not brilliantly performed. The one thing freeFall's production of The Pirates of Penzance is not is dull! It is two hours of wonderful entertainment as the audience around me made very clear. This will undoubtedly be a big hit for the company.

freeFall Theatre Company presents The Pirates of Penzance through September 4, 2016, at 6099 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg. For ticket and performance information, visit www.freefalltheatre.com.

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Kate: Hannah Benitez
Samuel: Emanuel Carrero
Ruth: Sara DelBeato
Police Droid: Will Garrabrant
Major General Stanley: Glenn Gover*
Frederic: Nick Lerew*^
The Pirate King: Hayden Milanes*
Edith: Kelly Pekar*^
Mabel: Kaylin Seckel*
Sergeant of Police: Robert Teasdale
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association
^=Resident Company Member

The Band (in alphabetical order):
Michael Raabe: Keys
Burt Rushing: Percussion
Paul Stoddart: Guitar
Kenny Walker: Bass

Director: Eric Davis
Musical Director: Michael Raabe
Production Stage Manager: Sarah Smiley*
Scenic Designer: Matt Davis
Costume Designer: Amy J. Cianci
Wig/Makeup Designer: Scott Daniel
Lighting Designer: Mike Wood+
Assistant Lighting Designer: Ryan Finzelber
Sound Designer: Stephen Kraack
Props Designer: Eric Davis
Fight Choreographer: Blake Braswell
Fight Captain: Nick Lerew*^
Master Carpenter: Matt Davis
Master Electrician: Christopher Baldwin
Scenic Painter: Allison Davis
Technical/Electrical Assistant: Trenten Szabo
Crew: Paige Gilley
+=Member of United Scenic Artists Local USA-829 of the IATSE


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