The Pirates of Penzance

Music by Arthur Sullivan

 The Hypocrites present Pirates of Penzance

New Arrangements by Kevin O’Donnell

Libretto by W. S. Gilbert

Directed by Sean Graney

Produced by the-hypocrites

At Chopin Theatre’s downstairs studio

Reinvented Pirates of Penzance sinks into sloppy parody

Director Sean Graney’s wild take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance comes off as more of a college frat and sorority prank than an operetta. Upon entering the promenade-styled runway setting, we see a group of Beach Boy look-a-likes dressed in short shorts playing guitars, hardly a Gilbert &  Sullivan setting.

 The Hypocrites present Pirates of Penzance

Once the performance begins, we quickly become haunted by awful singing and poor musicianship that butchers Arthur Sullivan’s melodic music.  I guess I’m too much of a traditionalist to appreciate  Graney’s humor because I think he took a polished, witty, and humorous classic and reduced it to a fumbling parody. His production is filled with actors who are not singers, who sport terrible British accents, and who have limited music skills making his Pirate of Penzance 80 minutes of torture for me.  The standing throughout didn’t help.

 The Hypocrites present Pirates of Penzance

I must confess that the opening night audience seem to laugh and enjoy the show which can be a dangerous thing since those who attend this show who are not familiar with Gilbert &  Sullivan may think that Graney’s production is authentic G & S – which it is not. I guess those who hate G & S will enjoy the deconstruction of a classic operetta.

A parody of a satire can work if you have excellent singers and musicians capable of doing justice to the work. In this case, the material is over the heads of the cast.  Robert McLean is a fine actor who is miscast as the Pirate King and Sergent of Police since he is weak singer. The same holds for Zeke Sulkes as Frederic. The only legitimate singer here is  Shawn Pfautsch who should of been cast as Fredic but was reduced to an ensemble role.  Christine Stulik’s shrill voice hurts her as Ruth and Mabel. The only somewhat bright spot comes from Matt Kahler who almost lands the famous patter song “I am the very model of a modern Major-General” – almost;  he does garner many laughs.

The 80 minute one act contains too much needless movement that forces the audience to move about creating poor sight-lines for many.  I’m not a fan of promenade staging. The story has too much mumbling and campy acting making for a confusing storyline.  I believe if your going to mount an operetta, please cast experienced musical comedy performers and musicians. You can do parody and over-the-top  satire of a classic – just use expert singers and musicians.  Why make such a melodic score and such witty libretto suffer? If you see this show, remember it is NOT a typical production but a deconstruction. To many, it’ll play as a funny mock of G & S. Just be warned.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

At Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St., Chicago, IL, tickets $28, Senior/students $14, call 773-989-7352, www.the-hypocrites.com, Thursdays thru sundays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 80 minutes without intermission, through January 30, 2011

Here is a sample from a classic production of Penzance: