Review: Betting on the evolution of Bristol’s ‘Pirates of Penzance’

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that over the last nights, Bristol Riverside Theatre’s large-scale production (two dozen cast members and a 12-piece orchestra) of “The Pirates of Penzance” should have jelled. When I saw it on opening night over a week ago, it was not yet solid – but there’s so much talent on the stage, I have to attribute it to opening-night gremlins. The performance gave me every indication that the production would settle into something much smoother.

 If you’ve seen this “Penzance,” you might help me here by telling me your impressions in the comments section. Here are mine: It’s spirited and fun and sometimes laughably silly, but when I saw the classic Gilbert and Sullivan piece, it should have been more fine-tuned. Karen Getz spent a lot of energy, I’m sure, on creating her humorous choreography, but at opening night it was performed in something less than sync, and the ensemble singing was too often hesitant.

I’m not one of those folks who can sing you every clever lyric of “Penzance” including the famous patter song that just gets faster and faster (and here, was muffled from where I sat, the whole way through) — in fact, I’m a newbie to the work. Somehow, I’ve managed to spend a ton of time in the theater but have never seen it until now.

At Bristol’s opening, I had to use context to get some of this goofy story of a young man mistakenly apprenticed to pirates, and that’s because the lyrics were frequently overpowered by the orchestra or imprecisely delivered. I don’t know whether Adam B. Orseck’s sound design was at all involved in that, but the sound techs that night didn’t do a thing to clear it up.

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The sweet and fragile soprano of Maria Failla, who plays the love interest, was eating up many of the lyrics she sings, but the strong tenor Patrick Dunn offered a precise Frederic, our young hero.

A forceful Nick Cordero is the pirate king, and Larry Cahn is the hapless major general in the adaptation created and staged by Bristol’s artistic director Keith Baker. Linda Bee Stockton’s impressive cartoonish costumes and Julia C. Lee’s set, imprinted with the show’s score, add to the production – a good time that just never made it to a great time when I saw it.

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE runs through April 28 at Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol. Tickets: $41-$49. or 215-785-0100.


This review has been amended to reflect that Maria Failla plays the lead female, a character named Mabel. The original review carried the name of an actress printed in the program, but not appearing in the show because of a health problem.  


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