As a newcomer to the area’s theatre scene, I was at first thrown somewhat off guard walking into a church basement to see Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s version of “The Pirates of Penzance.” It is important to note the tagline, “Theater For Everyone,” and the mission of this little community theatre which allows “performers, technicians and volunteers the chance to work in theater regardless of their experience level and to “Provide a platform for new and seasoned theater lovers to work together and learn from each other in a safe and supportive environment.” Though a little rough around the edges, I commend the group for their inclusivity and making the most out of their limited resources to bring this high-seas comedy to the stage.
…the cast and crew have clearly put a lot of work into putting this production together and are having a heck of a good time!
The scene was set for the play’s action long ago. When protagonist Frederick was a young boy, his nursemaid Ruth mistakenly signs him away to be an apprentice to a band of (not actually too threatening) pirates rather to a pilot as his parents would have preferred. Ruth, in turn, embraces the pirate lifestyle by becoming a ship maid, and, now that Frederick is grown, attempts to strike up a romance with him despite a substantial age difference between them.
Given that she is the only woman that he has ever seen, Frederick is actually on board with this plan before the appearance of Major General Stanley’s beautiful daughters which lets him know what he has been missing. He falls instantly for the kind-hearted Mabel as the other pirates in his band become infatuated with her sisters. The fact that their father is reluctant to relinquish them to outlaws poses another obstacle. Though Frederick should have license to leave the pirates for a nobler life with Mabel now that the 21st birthday stipulated in his apprenticeship contract has passed, it turns out that because he was born on the February 29 of a leap year, he is still technically bound to serve them.
The inherent tunefulness of the Gilbert and Sullivan score and the wit at play in the show’s lyrics goes a long way in giving the show entertainment value despite a few issues and perhaps some opening weekend jitters. At times, it was s bit hard to make out the lyrics (and the plot line unless you are already familiar with the story), a problem that seemed partially due to issues with the sound and some struggles with diction and projection. It may be an overly ambitious production to tackle, but you have to give a big nod to the effort and a clear love of theater and commitment by this group.
Sonya Brown and Robert Lopez, who played star-crossed lovers Mabel and Frederick, both have beautiful singing voices but need a bit more work on the acting aspects of their characters. While not as strong a singer, Gail Shapira as Ruth is among the more animated actors onstage. Eliyahu Kheel, whose spirited rendition of “Oh Better Far To Live And Die” is one of the show’s highlights. Despite the noticeable lengthening of between-verse pauses in General Stanley’s signature song, “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General,” Wayne Ivusich otherwise proves a solid performer and gives his character some amusing quirks.
Keira Kheel and Emily Talmadge also get some lovely solos as Edith and Kate Stanley. Chloe Scully, Chisom Akali, and Margaret Renner did admirably well despite being tasked, as female-presenting performers, with playing a group of policemen since the songs were a somewhat less natural fit for their vocal range. In some sense, the dichotomy between actors and characters made their sequences even more entertainingly ridiculous which fit well with the show’s overall vibe.
Also commendable, the production featured live musicians—some of who occasionally lent their voices to the pirate chorus as well. While at times uneven, the cast occasionally manages to achieve impressive harmonies under the musical direction of Darwin Ray, such as in Act 1 finale, “Oh Men of Dark and Dismal Fate.”
Another bright spot are the costumes. Though leaning more towards portraying cartoonish versus realistic 19th century pirates, convey the identity of the characters with a lot of splash (excuse the pun). The set by Alex Talmadge is mostly comprised of cardboard backdrops which are effective in setting the show’s tropical scene.
Choreography by Temple Fortson mostly stays on the simple side to suit the limitations of the small stage and the cast’s varied experience. Director Melissa Broy Fortson manages to add in occasional bits of tomfoolery to deliver genuine laughs.
As long as you don’t expect a ton of polish from these enterprising pirates as opposed to an earnest effort, you should support these efforts by checking out the show. The cast and crew have clearly put a lot of work into putting this production together and are having a heck of a good time!
Running Time: Two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
“Pirates of Penzance” runs through December 10, 2023 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore, 8212 Philadelphia Rd, Rosedale, MD 21237. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online.