THEATER REVIEW: “The Pirates of Penzance” @ Barrington Stage Co. [Berkshire on Stage]
Theater review by Gail M. Burns
If you are looking for a traditional, D’Oyly Carte staging of The Pirates of Penzance, keep on moving. There is nothing for you to see here. What is on the Main Stage at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield is what you get when you let two award-winning 21st century artists and the perfect cast loose with one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s silliest masterpieces. It is a tidal wave of music and mayhem guaranteed to thrill and entertain all but the stodgiest of Savoyards.
After the colossal international success of their fourth collaboration, H.M.S. Pinafore (1878) – think of it as the Hamilton of the Victorian era – Gilbert & Sullivan were free in Pirates (1879 NYC/1880 London) to be fully themselves artistically. The result is G&S at the top of their form – witty, silly fun set to sublime music. It is also the most American of their operettas in feel, and the only one to premiere in New York instead of London.
In 1980, the centennial of Pirates’ London premiere, the New York Public Theatre, then under the leadership of Joseph Papp, presented this operetta as one of its free summer offerings outdoors on the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. This production was directed by Wilford Leach, choreographed by Graciela Daniele, and featured new orchestral arrangements by William Elliott, who also served as the musical director. It went on to a successful run on Broadway, winning seven Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Director for Leach, and Best Choreography for Daniele.