Looking at the canon of work from Gilbert and Sullivan, they’ve had some hits that stood the test of time. Sure, some things are considered to not be so PC nowadays (looking at you The Mikado), but we still love to hear that brilliant score. In Master Voices’ concert production of The Pirates of Penzance, Broadway and opera come together for an evening that celebrates the classic musical comedy.
Featuring Master Voices and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the star-studded concert united past sound and present voices on the giant New York City Center stage. While the production elements may have been stripped down, the orchestra was anything but. The overture has seemed to have fallen into oblivion recently so it was refreshing to hear the glorious orchestra play the full overture as Arthur Sullivan intended. The concert featured a main cast of actors led by Phillip Boykin as the vivacious Pirate King, Deborah Voigt as homely Ruth, Hunter Parrish as dashing Fredrick, Julia Udine as the stunning Mabel, Tony winner Douglas Hodge as the Modern Major General, knockouts Betsy Wolfe and Montego Glover as sisters Edith and Kate respectively, and David Garrison as the timid Sergeant of Police. Each brought their A-game but it was the wall of sound behind them that stole the show. The endless rows that comprised Master Voices served as the perfect masterful vocal ensemble. It was nothing but humbling to watch these singers enthusiastically contribute to the musical celebration. Director and conductor Ted Sperling kept the evening simple. The staging was light but purposeful. Rather than simply stand and sing, Sperling guided his company to tell the story of the band of orphan-sympathizing pirates led by not so dastardly Pirate King with his noble apprentice Fredrick who learns the ways of the opposite sex. Sperling highlighted the natural sexiness of Gilbert’s libretto, allowing the company to have boatloads of fun. The costumes by Tracy Christensen were classic pirate-wear, hats and all, and colorful dresses for the ladies. They were simple yet effective. Though the colorful tops from women of the wall of sound drew the eye occasionally.
The acting company offered an array of styles to the stage. Phillip Boykin was animated as the Pirate King. He had the baritone but brought some extra comic moments by utilizing his falsetto upper register. Though he may not have been the most skilled vocalist on stage, Hunter Parris brought a pop sound to the opera as Frederick. Parrish fits the bill to a t with his charm and room-filling smile. Opera Veteran Deborah Voigt as Ruth brought a whole lot of fun to the pirate maid. She paired well with Boykin, especially during “Paradox.” Douglas Hodge was nothing but hilarious as Major-General Stanley. In a full production with more rehearsal the tempo likely could have been picked up but what Hodge did with the infamous patter song “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” brought the house down. Broadway starlets Betsy Wolfe and Montego Glover stole the show as the other Stanley sisters. Wolfe’s funny sexy approach was consistently entertaining. But the true shining star of the evening was Julia Udine as Mabel. Aside from her vocal precision, Udine added a nice dimensionality to the ingénue. She and Parrish were a impressive pair.
The Pirates of Penzance will forever be in the theatrical repertoire. Master Voices’ concert proves that perhaps it’s time to revive the musical somehow, somewhere. With that Jack Sparrow version kicking around, maybe a return to Shakespeare in the Park is in order. Call Kevin Kline and see if he wants to take a stab at the Major-Generally Stanley.