Review: ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre and Children’s Theatre

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“It is a glorious thing, to be a Pirate King” …but it is a far more glorious thing to spend a night at the Way off Broadway Dinner Theatre in Frederick, Maryland, seeing the first show of their 2017 season, The Pirates of Penzance.

The Pirates of Penzance originally premiered at the 5th Avenue Theatre in New York City on December 31, 1879. Incredibly popular at the time, it has engendered numerous revivals and adaptations, including Joseph Papp’s 1981 Broadway production, which ran for 787 performances and won a Tony Award for Best Revival. The opera follows young Frederic as he completes his servitude for pirates (even though he was supposed to be indentured to a pilot), declares his determination to rid the world of all dastardly and dangerous pirates, falls in and just as quickly out of love with his nursemaid Ruth, and discovers Mabel Stanley, daughter of Major General Stanley, his one true love. His only downfall? The curse of a leap-year birthday and the sudden discovery that he is not quite as free as he thinks. Will he join the pirates again? Will Mabel wait for him? Will Mabel’s sisters find love as well? All these questions and more are answered in Way off Broadway’s frolicking-fun show.

Jordan B. Stocksdale (The Pirate King). Phot courtesy of Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre and Children’s Theatre.

The lights come up on a closed curtain and a portrait of Queen Victoria, who haughtily eyes the audience from her rightful place above the stage. Slowly, and then moving more quickly as the music picks up, a small pirate ship floats across the apron, and as the audience chuckles, the curtain opens to reveal Jordan B. Stocksdale (the Pirate King) and his crew. Matthew Hirsh (Frederick) is easy to spot – his charismatic stage presence makes him an instant hit with the audience, and his voice, immediately featured in the opening song “Pour, O Pour the Pirate Sherry” is sweet yet commanding. He is no match, however, for the vocals of Stocksdale, whose strong voice combine with his playful demeanor and perfect comedic timing to make him an instant audience favorite, and who also receives credit for the Musical Direction of the show.

Matt Hirsh (Frederic) and Lawren Hill (Mabel). Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre and Children’s Theatre.

The female leads are no less impressive. As the daughters of Major General Stanley enter from the back of the house in their pastel dresses and bonnets, bubbling with buoyant laughter, Melissa Ann Martin (Edith) and Tori Weaver (Kate) instantly separate themselves from the rest. Their energy and hilarious facial expressions make them incredibly entertaining to watch, and their vocals hold up the bar set by Stocksdale’s impressive beginning. Soon after, Lawren Hill (Mabel)’s beautiful soprano soars (“Poor Wandering One”), and it is no wonder to anyone that Frederick falls for her!

Any show that has strong leads such as Stocksdale, Hirsh, Martin, Weaver, and Hill would be a hit, but Way off Broadway packs a punch with their ensemble members as well.

Sarah Melinda (Major General Stanley’s Daughter) and Matt J Bannister (Pirate) are hysterical in the ensemble numbers – their facial expressions and energy are spot on throughout the entire show, and neither one misses a chance to add a comedic beat. Joseph Waeyaert (Police Seargeant)’s hilarious rendition of “When the Foeman Bares His Steel” adds yet another layer to this talented ensemble, and Brian Clarke (Major General Stanley)’s demeanor and vocals are both entertaining and easy to understand, despite some major tongue twisters in “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General.”

The cast and crew of Way off Broadway’s The Pirates of Penzance has pulled off another great show. Ariel Messeca and Bill Kiska’s direction is entertaining and thoughtful, and Dee Buchanan’s choreography is perfect for the size stage Way off Broadway boasts; engaging without feeling claustrophobic. With nods to Broadway hits such as Cats, The Addams Family, and Fiddler on the Roof throughout and a fresh, modern interpretation of a classic Broadway show, this company will have any “Poor Wandering One”s wandering quickly back for more!

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes,with a 15 minute intermission.

The Pirates of Penzance plays through March 11, 2017 at the Way off Broadway Dinner Theatre and Children’s Theatre –  5 Willowdale Drive, in the Willowtree Plaza, in Frederick, Maryland. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 662-6600, or purchase them online.