On June 13, 2015, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts and New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players presented Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, a two-act operetta that was first produced in December of 1879 and proudly remains in production to this day. Artistic and Music Director Albert Bergeret, Co-Director David Auxier, and Technical Director David Sigafoose worked with a talented cast and crew and provided a night of quality entertainment!
Scenic Designer Lou Anne Gilleland used a large painted backdrop of a rocky English seashore scattered with boulders for the first act, and the derelict ruins of a chapel for the second. The costumes, designed by Gail J. Wofford and Annette Dieli, were fantastically detailed; the Pirates were decked in bold colors and an assortment of accessories (tri-corned hats, handkerchiefs, vests, sashes, all the way to the golden hoop earrings and eye patches), while the women swept the stage in elaborate dresses filled with ruffles, lace, frills, pleats, bows, clasps, buttons, and studs. With the women all huddled together onstage, these exhaustive dresses gave off the impression of a bunch of frosted little cakes, and were a delight to see!
Lighting Designer Benjamin Weill did a fine job blending the hours from daylight into sunset, and finally, the moon and stars. The technical elements were all of the highest professional quality, but the main draw for this production was the music from the live orchestra, conducted by Albert Bergeret, which was masterful. I loved that the musicians were as playful and interactive as they were professional; there was a memorable moment when a character had to pause and “scold” the percussionist for not using the exact tone that he had asked for. This show does not take itself too seriously, and I love that this fact was embraced wholeheartedly.
Noble hearted Frederic (Daniel Greenwood) is all too ready to leave his fumbling band of pirates, to whom he had been mistakenly apprenticed to until his 21st birthday. Led by a fanciful Pirate King (David Wannen) this particular band of pirates are clumsy and completely inept, prompting Frederic to exclaim that they are too “tender-hearted.” Upon his discharge, Frederic runs into a large group of sisters and falls in love with Mabel (Sarah Caldwell Smith), the youngest. Smith’s aria “Poor Wandering One” shows off a highly impressive vocal scale, and received enthusiastic applause. Mabel’s father, Major General (James Mills) has one of the most enjoyable songs, the exhaustive “I Am the Very Model of A Modern Major-General.” Mills’ uproarious performance was a clear crowd favorite! Another gem of this production was the downright silly choreography created by Bill Fabris. From impressive jumps and slapstick leaps to swashbuckling swordfights, the dancing was a pleasure to watch. I especially loved when the girls formed themselves into a train and “tooted” across the stage during the song “How Beautifully Blue the Sky.”
Frederic’s happily newfound life becomes complicated when “A Paradox,” sung by his childhood nurse Ruth (Angela Christine Smith) comes to light. All sorts of chaos ensue– loyalties are challenged, promises are broken, and barters are raised. Will Frederic be able to stay with his newfound love?
This show, while written in a loftier, older language, is filled with cartoonish movements and slapstick comedy that make it perfect for both children and adults. Measures were also taken to modernize the show a bit for some extra fun, with jokes touching on subjects such as Homeland Security and the No Child Left Behind Act. The ensemble was extremely talented, with my favorite performances easily being David Wannen as the Pirate King and James Mills as Major General Stanley. While this production was a “one night only” event for Wolf Trap, it is a highly-produced show, and one to keep a eye out for at other venues.
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts did a fantastic job with this production! Over the years I have come to expect high quality shows at this venue, and I am never disappointed. I would definitely recommend looking into the upcoming events that Wolf Trap has to offer.
Running Time: Two and a half hours, including one 20-minute intermission.
The Pirates of Penzance was performed on Saturday, June 13, 2015 at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts— 1635 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. To see a list of upcoming events at Wolf Trap and purchase tickets, go to their click calendar of events.