The ‘Pirates’ have a great time, and so will you
CAMBRIDGE — I have a feeling the boys would approve.
No one has ever turned inspired silliness into high art better than the duo of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, who turned cleverer-than-clever lyrics and pleasant melodies into operettas that charmed audiences in the Victorian era of the late 19th Century and continue to do so today.
When it comes to inspired silliness, this time the Chicago-based theater troupe The Hypocrites have gone them a bit better with their adaptation of “The Pirates of Penzance,” now being presented by the American Repertory Theatre at the Loeb Drama Center through June 2.
This production was first presented at the Oberon, the ART’s second stage, last year as part of the Emerging America Festival, and caught fire, making the decision to bring them back for a mainstage engagement fairly easy.
When you first enter the Loeb, you will feel as if you have wandered into a combination picnic, beach party, and karaoke-type sing-along. The patrons are encouraged to purchase cocktails as part of the experience, and many do.
Before the show, beach balls are everywhere, and The Hypocrites are warming up the crowd with their own versions of rock standards such as the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.” The male cast members are wearing sneakers and athletic shorts and it’s bathing suits, tutus and whatever for the ladies.
“Pirates” was adapted by The Hypocrites’ artistic director, Sean Graney, and Kevin O’Donnell, while the musical arrangements by O’Donnell and the cast are pretty much Jimmy Buffett meets Gilbert & Sullivan.
The musical accompaniment is also provided by the players as they stroll about, with an eclectic assortment of instruments — guitars, banjo, ukeleles, accordion and clarinet were spotted, in no particular order.
The Hypocrites do get it when it comes to the G&S humor, including Zeke Sultes as Frederic, the nobleman turned pirate turned nobleman, and Rob McLean as the Pirate King. We know this because Rob wears a hat that says “King.”
Christine Stulik is a hoot as the duplicitous Ruth, who has pulled the wool over the eyes of the clueless Frederic. Not all that hard to do, actually.
The plot, of course, has to do with the pirates being very ineffective since, most of them having been orphaned during childhood, they won’t attack other orphans. Suddenly, it seems the entire British merchant marine is populated by orphans. What’s the odds of that?
Mastering the intricate wordplay that Gilbert & Sullivan are famous for is tricky business, indeed, but Matt Kahler is not only the very model of a modern major general, he has truly mastered the tongue-twisting “Major General’s Song,” one of the highlights of any production of “Pirates.”
It all wraps up in a neatly-packaged 80 minutes, and no animals or patrons were harmed during this production.
It is finally spring, and the mood is light. Even lighter is this merry band of “pirates,” out to have a good time and take you along with them.
The Loeb Drama Center presents The Hypocrites’ production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.” Libretto by W.WS. Gilbert and music by Arthur Sullivan. Adapted by Sean Graney and Kevin O’Donnell. Directed by Sean Graney. www.amrep.org.