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Review: ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ at Mauckingbird Theatre Company in Philadelphia

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Mauckingbird Theatre Company twists the tides a bit while taking the audience on a fun-filled, thoroughly enjoyable trip on the high seas of hilarity, with its rollicking LGBT adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1879 operetta, The Pirates of Penzance, directed by Peter Reynolds.

 Kimberly Oppelt (Ruth), Jake Blouch (Pirate King), and Garrick Morgan (Frederic). Photo by John Flak.

Kimberly Oppelt (Ruth), Jake Blouch (Pirate King), and Garrick Vaughan (Frederic). Photo by John Flak.

From the scintillating opening aria, “Pour, Oh Pour The Pirate Sherry,” onward, it is clear that this is an extremely lively cast, and accompaniment; the excitement pours forth from the stage, followed by waves of applause.  There is no real sea change in the story, it remains essentially the same, with some changes in pronouns, gender roles, and a few select edits.

Garrick Morgan (Frederic). Photo by John Flak.

Laura Whittenberger (Mabel) and Garrick Vaughan (Frederic). Photo by John Flak.

Frederic (Garrick Vaughan), who was mistakenly apprenticed at a young age to the trade of piracy, has reached the end of his allotted duty, leaves his unavailing band of pirates behind, but not before imploring them to change careers, which they will not. Frederic vows to destroy piracy altogether and sets out upon his new course of duty.

Ruth (Kimberly Oppelt), his long time nursemaid-turned-pirate, wishes to accompany him as a wife, but then Frederic sees what other women look like for the first time in his life as Major General Stanley’s (Larry Lees) comely wards come into view gaily singing “Climbing Over Rocky Mountains.”

Frederic’s focus is captured by Mabel (Laura Whittenberger), where it remains, even though tested by the turns of fate, and the backlash from being born in a leap year. Meanwhile, the Major General has concocted a plucky scheme to keep his family safe from the pirates ploys…  Mauckingbird multiplies the mirth with extraordinary energy and exceedingly well developed characters.

Collectively, the ensemble performs well together, and yet each member manages to have and project some degree of distinctive character, give good reactions, and support the story.

Garrick Vaughan’s tenor voice is outstanding, particularly in “Oh, is There Not One Maiden Breast,” and paired with Laura Whittenberger’ awesome soprano in “Stay Frederic Stay,” as well as the number “Away, Away! My Heart’s on Fire” with Kimberly Oppelt’s strong alto, and the Pirate King, fabulously portrayed with flash in reigning purple robes, and a dash of Queen’s Freddy Mercury, by Jake Blouch.

 Larry Lees (Major-General Stanley) and the cast of 'The Pirates of Penzance.' Photo by John Flak.

Larry Lees (Major-General Stanley) and the cast of ‘The Pirates of Penzance.’ Photo by John Flak.

Larry Lees tops it in the renowned “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” and Police, featuring Lindsay Mauck as the Sergeant of Police,  elicit much laughter in almost every scene in which they appear.

The Pirates take the stage by storm in “With Cat-like Tread Upon Our Prey We Steal,” another favorite, while the Siblings singing is especially sweet in “Oh Dry the Glistening Tear.” Musical Directors Amanda Morton and Michael Pacifico set an ever present pace in the production with piano finesse. This is a one well-coordinated group, as is obvious from the quality of the production.

The marvelous multi-tiered set and scenery by Andrew Laine and Kate Coots, complete with sandbar, rocks, plants, and ship’s mast, and the overall theater space is well utilized, and augmented by a superb lighting design by Shon Causer,  which also serves to extend the stage space, as well as to contract or highlight various areas depending upon the scene.

Wonderfully creative choreography by Dann Dunn and movement are evident and well-executed in rapturous jewel toned costumes by Mary Anne Chiment for the pirates. There are also 1970’s aesthetic peasant garb, including tunics and flower headbands for the siblings, and police costumes sporting authentic badges (the Major General’s outfit shall be left as a surprise).

Lindsay Mauck (Sergeant of Police) and the Police Force. Photo by John Flak.

Lindsay Mauck (Sergeant of Police) and the Police Force. Photo by John Flak.

Mauckingbird Theatre Company’s entertaining The Pirates of Penzance is a fun and frolicsome experience from start to finish. Arrrgh!

Running Time: 90 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

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The Pirates of Penzance plays through September 4, 2016 at Mauckingbird Theatre Company performing at Randall Theater at Temple University – 2020 North 13th Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.

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