Category Archive for: ‘Woody Weingarten’

Community theater’s musical ‘Pirates’ defies logic but enchants, amuses

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★★

Norman A. Hall portrays a blustery Major-General Stanley in “The Pirates of Penzance.” Photo by Robin Jackson.

Phillip Percy Williams plays a swashbuckling Pirate King in “The Pirates of Penzance.” Photo by Robin Jackson.

Jim Dunn’s retired from directing colossal musicals for The Mountain Play in Mill Valley.

But he hasn’t quit doing them elsewhere.


Need proof? Check out the Ross Valley Players’ production of “The Pirates of Penzance” at the Marin Art & Garden Center in Ross.

The company’s professionalism, congeniality-packed presentation, and mastery of the 136-year-old musical comedy/light opera may raise your perception of community-theater.

It did mine.

I’d expected it to be fun, but I hadn’t imagined it to be as impressive as it is.

This two-hour show’s as good as anything anywhere in the Bay Area.

Some folks may be more familiar with Capt. Hook’s crew, from this summer’s “Peter Pan” Mountain Play, or Johnny Depp in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie franchise, or, for that matter, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But Gilbert & Sullivan’s tender-hearted pirates, I believe, are funnier.

And more enchanting.

Even though their actions defy logic and common sense.

It’s almost impossible to watch the 22 performers spilling over the stage at The Barn, the RVP’s home, without feeling good.

Especially when the dainty daughters of Major-General Stanley prissily twirl their parasols, the bobbleheaded British bobbies stumble and bumble like Keystone Cops, or the decidedly un-menacing pirates engage in unison foot-stomping — all courtesy of imaginative choreographer Sandra Tanner.

Most audience members grinned from the first lines of the first number past the final curtain.

Like me.

Before the show, Dunn admitted to early birds he chose the show mainly because it was in the public domain, which meant the RVR wouldn’t have to pay royalties (as it would most modern musicals).

But he also informed one woman that, in contrast to the vulgar “Book of Mormon” he’d recently caught, he loved “Pirates” because of its old-fashioned innocence and it being a crowd-pleasing summer diversion.

Dainty daughters of Major-General Stanley in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” include (from left) Kathryn McGeorge, Dana Cherry, Katie Sorensen, Chloe Hunwick and Arden Klizer. Photo by Robin Jackson.

In my view — one that dates back 70 years to a time when my father introduced me to the frenzied rhythms and lyrics of Gilbert & Sullivan, whose sprightliness and cleverness dad relished — Dunn utilizes his own fondness for G&S to inject a comedic music-hall over-the-topness that works extraordinarily well.

His direction, especially turning minor details into major laughs, is brilliant — as might be anticipated from an 83-year-old who’s been directing and teaching theater arts for half a century.

Everything works.

Even having two couples seated in extra-fee boxes on stage and waving teeny Union Jacks.

The cast as a whole is uncommonly good.

In a word: superb.

But several are even better than that: Norman A. Hall’s Major-General Stanley is letter perfect, setting a sky-high bar for other comic performers. Phillip Percy Williams’ Pirate King weaves exaggeration and energy into a smile-inducing, ideal blend. And Joni DeGabriele magnificently flaunts her coloratura, fancifully flutters her eyelashes and unsubtly scrunches up her face as Mabel, wannabe bride.

They’re all accompanied by the piano talent of Music Director Paul Smith, who, from the first note of the overture to the last note of the show, keeps well within the parameters of feel-good.

All that’s amazingly supplemented by the classic, colorful costumes of Michael A. Berg and the enchantingly spare but picturesque sets by Ron Krempetz.

The irrational plot finds Frederic mistakenly apprenticed to the pirates until age 21 by his nurse. But because he was born on Leap Year’s Day, he’s stuck for an extra 63 years — despite having fallen for Mabel, daughter of Major-General Stanley. The pirates are sympathetic to orphans, so all who run afoul of them claim they’re orphans — including Stanley. Pirates pursue Stanley’s daughters. Police pursue pirates.

It all ends with everything in harmony — or in unison, if you prefer accuracy.

The best of the 28 musical numbers are — as always — the rollicking “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” and “The Policeman’s Lot Is Not a Happy One.”

Nitpickers may gripe about some British accents coming and going like the tide off the shore of Cornwall, the play’s setting, or the old theater’s lack of air conditioning.

Clearly, their joy-ometer is off.

I spied no children in the audience opening night. A pity. Kids would undoubtedly find the frisky silliness to their liking.

As did the child in me.

“Pirates of Penzance” will run at The Barn, Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, through Aug. 16. Night performances, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Matinees, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $17-$33. Information: (415) 456-9555 or

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