I have a history with Pirates of Penzance. When I was young, around 11/12, I had a TV with cable in my room. I am the seventh child, my parents were tired, the TV raised me. I first saw the movie version very late at night, and never got the name. Every now and then I would ask people about a pirate musical, hoping to find the name out. I wasn’t exposed to that many musical folks so it took me years to find out it was Pirates of Penzance, it got easier once the Animaniacs starting spoofing it. I’ve seen the movie several times now, and finally had a chance to see it a production, although slightly different from how I imagine Gilbert & Sullivan envisioned.
You know how on TV shows and in movies they show neighborhood kids putting on a show? It never happened in my town, but I would like to believe that it does. This production was an awesome version of a backyard musical. Produced by STAGEright, it was a risky venture to do an open so flippantly. When we walked into the Freehold Theater half hour before showtime the cast was already lingering about the stage, like hanging out in the school yard. They played hangman with the crowd, broke out into singalongs, and generally played among themselves. Closer to showtime they sang a couple of more organized songs, Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” and The Mamas & The Papas’ “California Dreamin”. Quietly a man at a piano started playing the overture, the cast ran back stage and the lights went dim.
The neighborhood kids theme worked, capes made of blankets, a small porch and an a-frame ladder as sets, and the occasional “forgotten” line made the comedic parts of the opera shine. The ensemble of 11 had a tough job, Pirates is usually performed with a cast four times their size. And don’t count out the Gilbert and Sullivan cult, I noticed a large number of people mouthing along the show, they’re worse than the Sondheimites. With only a couple of people playing duo roles, there was almost always a small chorus on stage. The male and female leads were both stellar singers, they filled the room with a presence big enough for broadway. The rest of the cast was a rotating group of larger than life characters, all vying for their time in the spotlight, and just a tad jealous of the mains. Pirates was never the most serious of operas, STAGEright’s addition of some pop cultures references seemed natural, it was genius to include the Arrested Development chicken dances. This was a great show and a lot of fun, so it’s no surprise that the last couple shows are already sold out. I would recommend going anyway and trying to get in, it’s worth it.