Theater Review: Pirates Of Penzance, A New Spin On An Old Warhorse

May 31, 2018

“The Pirates of Penzance,” that 19th Century view of a Great Britain long gone, is rarely seen these days. But the Wilbury Theater Group has revived it. 

Rhode Island Public Radio’s Bill Gale caught it the other night and he says it’s a whole lot of wacky fun.

It is 7:10 p.m at the Wilbury’s theater spot in Providence’s Olneyville section. From the parking area you can hear loud, roaring music and singing. Are you late for the show? You wonder. Thought it was to start at 7:30. A critic just can’t be late. What’s going on?

Well, what’s up turns out to be a cheerful perversion of “Pirates of Penzance.” There’s the large cast already on the big performing space, playing games, having fun. They wear costumes that can only be called wacky, goofy jokes. They laugh at what good 19th Century Brits would wear. They do it vibrantly, roll all around, a pre-show welcoming.

Come on in, they are are saying. See this old time theatrical winner re-done, looked at with an atmosphere that’s one part nothing but silliness which is covered charmingly with fun and drive turning this new Penzance into a joyous romp.

As the performers – filled with drive, humor and nuttiness --, parade around shooing the audience out of the way _ you get the idea that this is something you need to laugh with, to go along with. You even join in throwing around basketball-sized props or happily taking one of the lollipops the actors provide. It’s a case of being with the production all the way.

I, and the rest of the audience, certainly did that. This “Pirates of Penzance” is a hoot, and I loved it.

Director Josh Short, the Wilbury’s founder, has clearly decided to provide fun and he manages all that, and more.

There’s Jennifer Mischley bringing great verve to the “modern” Major General. Brian Lang is a marvelously powerful Pirate and policeman. Sarah Leach is a primary Isabel. The rest of the large cast moves this production with vibrancy and humor throughout.

All of this is done on a most unusual (make that nearly weird) set concocted by Keri King with flashing choreography by Ali Kenner Brodsky. Meg Donnelly’s costumes are, shall we say, remarkable ranging from bright red Grocs to nylons festuned with garter belts.

So this ‘Pirates of Penzance” almost completely goes at giving a good time. It’s a work for everybody beginning with kids. Sure, it does look into, a bit, the ideas of following 19th century desires such as doing your duty and caring about Queen and country.

But most of all it’s interested in presenting a great good, fast-pasted party, something for everybody. Nothing wrong with that, I think. The night I was their the cast finished up by dancing amid the ticket buyers. One young lady came by me --"I hope you had fun,” she said.

No doubt about that, I told her.

“The Pirates of Penzance” has been extended through June 17. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.