Pirates revival ends season with swagger and laughs
By: Holly Harris
Theatre review Winnipeg Free Press May 23/15
The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Winnipeg is capping its 25th anniversary with fa-la-las and a crew of swashbuckling pirates.
Last staged here in 2009, the four-show run of The Pirates of Penzance that wraps up this weekend is also the society’s fourth presentation of the popular comic opera penned by Victorian-era composer Arthur Sullivan and librettist W.S. Gilbert in 1879.
The two-act comedy, a.k.a. “The Slave of Duty,” tells the tale of Frederic, who has just turned 21 and is therefore released from his duties as pirate apprentice. He falls in love with Mabel, daughter of Major-General Stanley, until discovering he had been born on Feb. 29 of a leap year, Feb. 29, and is thus bound to the buccaneers for another 63 years.
Throw in a chorus of police, a bevy of beautiful maidens and they all, as they say, live happily ever after.
Savvy staging by director Reid Harrison made effective use of Sheldon Johnson’s multi-levelled set design, which also includes craggy seaside cliffs lit by Scott Henderson. Michelle Mourre crisply led the 22-piece orchestra with her usual elegant finesse.
Casting is always paramount to a production’s success, and this one boasts several fine leads, including a particularly strong Mabel. Marking her society debut, soprano Anne-Marie MacIntosh’s coloratura proved spot-on as the winsome heroine, flitting about the stage as her agile voice easily handled the quicksilver runs and ornamentation in early highlight Poor wandrin’ one!
Her sisters Edith (Deanna Smith), Kate (Susanne Reimer) and the speaking role of Isabel (Courtney Dugan) also led the chorus of the giggly maids who warble through their sprightly choruses, including Climbing Over Rocky Mountains, daring to shed their shoes and stockings until shocked by the sight of Frederic — “a man!”
Tenor Wes Rambo delivered a noble Frederic, torn between love and duty with his tender parting duet Stay, Frederic, stay!, sung with Mabel, especially poignant. He also displayed fine acting skills, as well as keen comic timing during his exchanges with the swaggering Pirate King, hilariously portrayed by bass/baritone Sam Plett, as well as Michael Dueck’s sidekick pirate Samuel.
There would have been a mutiny in this city if beloved veteran singer/actor Fred Cross had not appeared in his notable 25th G&S Society production. The baritone enthralled in his role as the self-absorbed Major-General, tossing off his tongue-twisting text in tour-de-force patter song I am the very model of a modern Major-General with fierce concentration.
Cross also received the honours of introducing the society’s recurring mascot, i.e. Paddington the Bear — which regularly makes cameo appearances in all society productions and even has its own furry head shot in the theatre’s lobby.
Soprano Cathryn Harrison, who also doubles as the show’s choreographer, created a convincing Ruth, a “piratical maid of all work” who explained the pirate/pilot mix-up during opening solo When Frederic was a Little Lad.
The bumbling, baton-wielding English bobbies led by the Sergeant of Police (Scott Braun) trooped through When the foeman bares his steel with military precision, punctuated by their rhythmical trumpet cries of “Tarantara!” The pirates were also loud ’n’ proud during their opening Pour, O King the Pirate Sherry.
Much of the joy of a Gilbert and Sullivan production lies is its topical humour and biting satire — including pokes at high opera — relevant to the day. Past local G&S Society shows have wisely included witty references to everything from Bud Light to a certain local hockey team.
This decidedly traditional production plays it straight, putting it at risk of becoming a museum piece for the mostly older audience.
Standing ovations have also become de rigueur for many of the musical offerings in our city; for once, a nonetheless still very appreciative crowd of 455 remained firmly in their seats on Wednesday.
Thanks to the entire crew:
Pirate King Sam Plett
Samuel Michael Dueck
Frederic Wes Rambo
Major-General Stanley Fred Cross
Police Sergeant Scott Braun
Mabel Anne-Marie MacIntosh
Ruth Cathryn Harrison
Edith Deanna Smith
Kate Susanne Reimer
Isabel Courtney Dugan
Daughters, Pirates & Police
Carly Berthon, Jen Bouskill, Amanda Bruneau, Tanis Chapman, Sarah Cory, Richie Diggs, Paul Forget, Ashley Fredette, Marlon Goolcharon, Kristinn Jakobson, Kim Kakegamic, Joseph MacDonald, Gail Mildren, Allen Nixon, Jodie Potter, Beth Rempel, Jonathan Stitt, Roman Szczerba, Vic Unruh, Jean van der Merwe, Matthew Wall, Murray Wichert, Kevin Woelk, Diane Wreford, Chelsey Young
Director Reid Harrison
Music Director Michelle Mourre
Set Designer Sheldon Johnson
Lighting Designer Scott Henderson
Production Manager Chris Thomson
Stage Manager Brett Mikulik
Ass’t Stage Manager Kaitlyn Kriss
Pianists Cary Denby, Maddy Hildebrand and Mike Cutler
Costumer Harlequin Costumes
Business Manager Jan Malabar