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Still gloriously silly after all these years
Special to The Seattle Times
"I don't think much of our profession [piracy], but contrasted with respectability it's comparatively honest."
No, that's not Johnny Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean" talking, although it certainly sounds like something his character, Capt. Jack Sparrow, might say.
It's the Pirate King's most quotable line from Gilbert and Sullivan's 127-year-old opera "The Pirates of Penzance," which is getting a hearty revival this month from the 52-year-old Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society.
Neither the show nor the G&S Society is showing its age, thanks to a spirited gang of actors who know exactly how much tongue to place in their cheeks. That's always a necessity with "Pirates" because the plot is built on a series of delirious improbabilities.
If Ruth, the hard-of-hearing nursemaid, had not mixed up "pilots" with "pirates," she would never have apprenticed 8-year-old Frederic to a crew of buccaneers. If Frederic hadn't been born on Feb. 29, if he hadn't started life as a leap-year baby, and if Major-General Stanley had not pretended to be an orphan ... well, there would be no story to hang the songs on.
Fortunately, the nonstop silliness is embraced by director Christine Goff, who never takes seriously this series of misunderstandings and deceptions. The production takes a while to find its rhythm, partly because the first act is heavy on exposition, but once the snaggle-toothed Ruth (Nancy Gentemann Hebert) and the 21-year-old Frederic (Scott Rittenhouse) have established their rowdy chemistry in a duet, there's no stopping this crew.
When Frederic falls for the major-general's pretty daughter, Mabel (Cristina Villareale), the relationship turns out to be less about romance than it is about battling for attention. Villareale uses her impressive soprano voice to reach the high notes of "Poor Wandering One," but she's also slyly mocking the character's vanity.
"The Pirates of Penzance, or the Slave of Duty," produced by the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Wednesday through July 29, Bagley Wright Theatre, Seattle Center; $12-$29 (206-341-9612 or www.pattersong.org).
Villareale and Rittenhouse are relatively new to the longstanding company, and Andrew Parks is making his Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society debut as the Pirate King.
But there is one 27-year veteran, KIRO radio's Dave Ross, who delivers the major-general's tongue-twisting patter song ("I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General") while throwing in an alternate set of lyrics that touch on global warming, the Internet, the Seahawks and the monorail.
This may not make "Pirates" the very model of a modern major musical. Ross doesn't always synch up with the G&S Society's compact orchestra, which Bernard Kwiram conducts with precision, and purists may be offended by the introduction of 21st-century jokes and references. But by the time Ross arrives with his extra patter, the production has established such a giddy sense of fun that you'll probably feel like going with it.
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company