Pirates of Penzance is easily Gilbert and Sullivan’s most well known comic opera, an immediate hit when it originally premiered in New York in 1879 with a hilarious libretto that has lasted the test of time. The famed musical duo would have been proud of the Artistic Civic Theatre‘s production of their masterpiece, an homage that paid great tribute to the show’s vaudevillian roots while still remaining fresh and lively for a show that is over 130 years old. Director Jennifer Phinney and musical director Adam Burnette along with their amazingly talented cast have done well in producing a show that was well paced with great comedic timing and filled with moments of light hearted buffoonery and many show-stopping numbers.
One of the things that struck me as brilliant about Artistic Civic Theatre’s performance were many of the directorial choices, but one specifically: the music. I’ve seen this particular play performed by orchestras of various sizes, some rather large. I’ve even seen it performed with a music track (which I’m typically not a fan of.) This particular performance was backed by one single instrument, a sturdy upright piano played by musical director Adam Burnette. The lack of instruments isn’t typical, not even of the other musicals that ACT performs which normally feature various different instruments. The reason this struck me as brilliant was because it evoked the feeling of yesteryear from the era when the show was originally performed in vaudeville burlesque shows across the country. The musical was very well performed, so in no way was this a distraction. Quite the opposite, it added a greater value to the production because of its simplistic approach. This choice isn’t something I would recommend for most musicals, but in this particular case I think it was a great choice.
The story of Pirates of Penzace (also known as The Slave of Duty) is a tounge in cheek thrill ride about an innocent lad named Frederick who was mistakenly given into apprenticeship to a band of inept yet too moral for their own good misfit orphan pirates when Frederic’s nursemaid Ruth mistook the pirates for pilots. Entering into his 21st year, Frederick is finally free of his indentured servitude and quickly falls into the gaggle of a group of girls who happen to the be the daughters of Marjor-General Stanley. What happens next is, as they say, the point of the play, ending in a deus ex machina of the truest sense.
Playing the Major-General is Tim Etheridge, who is indeed the very model of a modern Major-General as Tim also happens to be the Director-General of the Artistic Civic Theatre. I couldn’t imagine anyone more perfect to play this role, and he did it with astute confidence and charisma while displaying an amazing knack at enunciating the lofty vernacular of a sesquipedalian (look it up) officer and provides much of the comic relief for the show.
Playing the lead antagonist, the not so dreadful but most certainly dreaded (hair joke) pirate King is stage veteran Ted Long. Ted’s performance was astounding, especially in a role that traditionally requires some serious operatic chops.
Then of course are our dashing protagonist Frederic played by Ben Southerland and his blushing ingenue Mable played by Emma Phinney; both of whom were likely typecast for actually being the characters they were playing as their acting was very natural and true to form even though their role itself is very challenging.
Ruth, played by Jessica Brinkley, absolutely stole the show. Having quite the vocal chops herself, it was her comedic timing that truly stood out and won the audience over easily.
The community of Dalton should be proud of what ACT is doing. Having just finished their 24th season, this smaller unassuming theatre is producing quite a punch with amazingly talented people presenting some great family friendly theatre that far exceeds expectations. For those in Chattanooga it is definitely worth the trip down to check out one of their shows. You will not be disappointed.