Arts and Entertainment

Drama Dock’s ‘Pirates of Penzance’ is a silly summer romp | Review

Joe Farmer, as Frederick (center), is held up by Lissy Nichols (Ruth) and Gordon Millar (the Pirate King) in Drama Dock’s production of “The Pirates of Penzance.”  - Richard Farner Photo
Joe Farmer, as Frederick (center), is held up by Lissy Nichols (Ruth) and Gordon Millar (the Pirate King) in Drama Dock’s production of “The Pirates of Penzance.”
— image credit: Richard Farner Photo

By CANDACE BROWN

For The Beachcomber


Gilbert and Sullivan are long gone, but the outlandish plot, humor and tsunami of syllables that characterized their comic opera “The Pirates of Penzance” live on in Drama Dock’s summer production of this classic.

On opening night at Bethel Church, a wave of fun swept over the assembled Islanders when the orchestra conductor, Gaye Detzer, cued a band of rowdy pirates to burst through the doors at the back of the room and swagger down the aisle to launch the show.

From that point on, the audience responded with enthusiasm to the antics and singing that followed. If cast members had any first night jitters, the good vibes of the crowd dissolved them and set up an exchange of energy that seemed to feed their confidence. They obviously enjoyed themselves while delivering rapid-fire lyrics, with live accompaniment by nine excellent musicians.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t always easy to hear the words, and not just because there were so many. On a couple of occasions, words and music even slipped out of sync. This could have been due to the fact that the troupe was performing at a venue new to them. Vashon High School theater, their usual home for musicals, was unavailable because of construction. But thanks to Bethel, the show could at least go on, memorable songs, great costumes and all.

The nonsensical plot tells of an orphaned boy named Frederic (Joe Farmer) coming to age after having been apprenticed to a band of unbelievably benevolent pirates through a mistake on the part of his nursemaid, Ruth (Lissy Nichols), the only female he has ever seen. Having just reached the age of 21, he is no longer indentured and leaves the pirate life, soon to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the numerous adopted daughters of Major-General Stanley (Rich Wiley).

The plot’s convolutions are more easily experienced than described, but the theme is Frederic’s extreme sense of duty. Conflicts arise around the fact that he was born on Feb. 29 —in a leap year — and has actually had only five birthdays, not 21, and therefore is still indentured, according to the Pirate King Merridew (Gordon Millar). Frederic falls madly in love with Stanley’s daughter Mabel (Julea Gardener), and melodrama reigns as they swear loyalty to each other in the face of what seems to be an inevitable separation of decades.

Director Elizabeth Anthony has choreographed the ample action of the show with aplomb.

Policemen clash with pirates. Pirates lust after maidens. Maidens giggle and gather around their father. Father escapes death. Frederic’s former nursemaid, homely Ruth, morphs into a sexy pirate wench, who ultimately saves the day by finding proof that the pirates are actually noblemen gone wrong, suitable suitors for the maidens after all.

Too numerous to be individually mentioned, all cast members did a fine job, with exceptional performances by several. Farmer delivered his songs with a heartfelt, pleasing vocal style and the clearest diction of all. Soprano Gardener showed great control as she beautifully negotiated the challenges of Mabel’s solos. Wiley and Millar, both perfectly cast, were obviously having fun. Nichols pulled off her character’s accent and personality with conviction, and Keanu Rousch made the perfect pirate lieutenant, Samuel.

And then there were some delightful surprises. Little Laura Erickson played her part as the youngest daughter, Maxie, with facial expressions and gestures that showed real engagement. Bright-eyed and flirtatious Annelise Bogue absolutely sparkled as Evangeline, the maid. And when I first heard the charming Maya Krah, who played daughter Kate, sing in a voice that resonated with a quality I can’t even describe, I knew I would review her performances again one day, far beyond Vashon’s shores.

I felt a sense of community pride as folks gathered to enjoy the talents of friends and family. But I wondered if they wished, like I did, that the program had said more about the cast members themselves, instead of offering irrelevant “bios” of the characters they played. But that small matter did not detract from a delightful production. Congratulations, Drama Dock.

 

— Candace Brown is a Tacoma-based writer and musician with deep ties to Vashon. Visit her blog for more of her observations about happenings in our region.

 

Pirates of Penzance will play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, July 19 to 21, and at 4 p.m. Sunday, July 22, at Bethel Church. Tickets range from $7.50 to $20 and are available at Vashon Bookshop and www.brownpapertickets.com.

 

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