Review: Sailing on Silly Seas With ‘The Pirates of Penzance’

Yet while those cultists known as Savoyards may find fault, this “Pirates” turns out to be the most charmingly relaxed production of a Gilbert and Sullivan work that I’ve come across. And though it includes some interpolations from latter-day pop, it is also surprisingly true to the spirit of its 19th-century creators. (I say this with the sad authority of someone who appeared in a college production of “Pirates.”)

That means this show delivers period satire with a thorough appreciation of its artful, evergreen absurdity. To relish that sensibility, you do not have to be familiar with what’s being made mock of here: the hidebound institutions of parliament and the navy, the pieties of Victorian sentimentality and Italian operas in which improbably intricate plots were matched by the ornateness of the score.

An antic exuberance is built into the form and content of Gilbert and Sullivan shows. And the ensemble here, which doubles as its own band, channels that spirit with an infectious blitheness that requires no footnotes.

In a fleet 80 minutes (including a one-minute intermission), the show unpacks the tale of young Freddy (Shawn Pfautsch), an apprentice to a team of inept pirates who is just about to turn 21, when he will be free of his indentures. But there are complications, as there always are in 19th-century opera, involving divided allegiances and accidents of birth.

Photo

Matt Kahler as the Major-General in a production in which actors sing, play instruments and interact with audience members.

Credit
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

These come to the surface when the dunes of Penzance are invaded by a squadron of dewy, gaily tripping maidens. They are the daughters of the Major-General (Matt Kahler), a military bigwig who is ultimately as talentless as Freddy’s mentor, the tenderhearted Pirate King (Robert McLean).

Though Freddy owes much to the smitten Ruth (Christine Stulik), the maternal crone who delivered him as a wee lad to the pirates, he immediately falls for the Major-General’s daughter Mabel, who has a knockout soprano voice. Mabel is also played by Ms. Stulik, who changes costumes faster than Superman and wields a cadenza the way an ace rock guitarist weaponizes power chords.

As the performers deliver this labyrinthine plot — playing guitar, accordion, banjo, saw and violin all the while — they move purposefully among…

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