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Theater Review: ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ at the Young Victorian Theater Company


The cast and orchestra of ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ from the Young Victorian Theater Company (photo by Steve Ruark for the Young Victorian Theater Company).

Finally, the Young Victorian Theater Company (YVTC) can celebrate its 50th anniversary (albeit two years late due to the pandemic) and is back in its original home on the Gilman School campus. They do it in grand style with a production as delightful and professional as you’ll ever see – Gilbert & Sullivan’s wonderfully hilarious ‘The Pirates of Penzance’.

…a production as delicious and professional as you will ever see…

YVTC has become a Baltimore institution, showcasing the work of Gilbert & Sullivan for decades. Brian S. Goodman — who joined what started as a student group at Gilman at 18, was the general manager for 45 years — introduced the show with some fun facts. Gilbert & Sullivan were apparently the first British invasion and the Beatles of their time. When the show premiered in New York on December 31, 1879 (for copyright reasons), it was a huge success. As evidenced by the hit 1980s film starring Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstandt and Rex Smith and probably too many productions to name them, it has continued to appeal over the years.

The day has finally arrived: the 21st birthday of young Frédéric (a serious Luke Schmidt) who will finally be released from his apprenticeship under contract. His nurse Ruth (the wonderfully funny Cara Shaefer) misheard “pilot” and she gave the boy to a bunch of “pirates” – who are about as scary as a basket of puppies. Frederic turns out to be a very dedicated and honorable young man, and tells the Pirate King (a fantastic Sam Mungo), his right-hand man, Samuel (an excellent Daniel Sampson), and the rest of the gang that he must track them down. and rid the word of pirates if they do not reform.

Meanwhile, Ruth, the only woman this young man has ever seen, wants Frederick to marry her. He reluctantly agrees until a gang of young girls, all Major General Stanley’s daughters (more on the amazing Thomas Hochla later), arrive on the beach and he is instantly smitten with Mabel (Tess Ottinger, with a breathtaking voice) because she is with him. The pirates soon follow and want to make all the women their wives.

These hackers live by several ethical codes, the most important being that they will never harm an orphan because they are orphans. (There are some really fun puns out there.) As everyone knows, these aren’t the most successful hackers. When the Major-General arrives and after his incredible tongue twister “I-am-the-model-of-a-modern-Major-General”, he convinces the pirates that he is an orphan. If they marry his daughters, he will be so lonely.

As Frederic rounds up the ragtag group of police, led by Police Sergeant (sweet-voiced Jim Williams), the Pirate King and Ruth find a paradox and convince Frederic that because he was born in a leap year on February 29 , it is only five. Meanwhile, the Major-General is stricken with insomnia and overwhelming guilt over his lie to the pirates (and does a fabulous ballet trick, channeling his inner “swan”). All sorts of craziness ensues but, of course, we end up with a most unlikely and happiest ending.

Other notable characters are Mabel’s two notable sisters. July 10 was Hannah Wardell as Kate (she’ll also be on July 14, 16, and 17, and the other dates are covered by Zoe Christine). Edith was played by Cassidy Dixon and alternates performances with Hana Abrams.

The artistic director, Catrin Rowenna Davies, herself a mezzo-soprano who has performed several times with the company, is at the helm of this production. With the help of Hochla who is also the choreographer, they move the large cast very well around the small stage and the rhythm is excellent.

Christoper Flint’s set is simple, which works because there are often a lot of actors on stage. Since they’re all decked out in beautifully detailed, brightly colored costumes (thanks to Glenn Avery Breed and Wardrobe Witchery) – the pirates in red, gold and orange and the ladies in all the colors of the rainbow – a complex set not necessary and would be a distraction. At the time, it was the prized and sadly lost costume store, AT Jones & Sons on Howard Street, that helped dress the actors. But there’s still a bit of history left with the boutique’s Mary Bova as wardrobe manager.

As per tradition, lyrics from a few locations are updated with local references and touch on current headlines (thanks to Goodman and Mungo). Of course, it destroyed the house every time!

J. Ernest Green returns as a conductor who has been with YVTC for over 20 years. He has an impressive resume and the orchestra is just stunning – all of them – and such a pleasure to have a live orchestra. The orchestra sits in front of the stage but it is actually part of the show as Green sometimes interacts with the actors. (If you’re in the front rows, there may be a line-of-sight issue – Green makes a bold move. After a while, the show is so much fun, it works.)

The cast has no mics and projects very well overall. When they are on the front of the stage, they are helped by two microphones in the pit. If you are having trouble, the supertitles are projected above the stage.

Ironically, the lack of air conditioning forced the company to perform at other area schools for several years. Now with the newly installed system, the theater was freezing (maybe it has since been adjusted) so don’t forget to bring a sweater or jacket.

I would like to name everyone involved as it was a magnificent show on every level. A special nod also goes to the incredible choir and their glorious voices – and the team behind the scenes. Go see it and you will leave with a song in your heart.

Duration: About 2h30 with an intermission.

‘The Pirates of Penzance’ runs until July 17, 2022, presented by the Young Victorian Theater Company at the Gilman Alumni Auditorium, 5407 Roland Avenue, Baltimore, MARYLAND 21210. For more information and tickets, call the box office at 410-323-3077 or go online.

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