'The Pirates of Penzance'. Comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan. Directed by Wilford Leach. Music adapted and conducted by William Elliott. Choreography by Graciela Daniele. Starring Kevin Kline, Estelle Parsons, Linda Ronstadt, George Rose, Rex Smith.
The New York Shakespeare Festival has reprised its renovations of two Victorian treasures. "The Pirates of Penzance" by Gilbert and Sullivan,which was last summer's Central Park hit, has opened ebulliently at the Uris Theater. "Alice in Concert," the Elizabeth Swados version of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass," has been running off Broadway at the Festival's Public/Anspacher theater.
Broadway has welcomed its first great, big, beautiful, extravagantly hilarous treat of 1981 -- a pixilated version of an 1880 Gilbert and Sullivan classic. "The Pirates of Penzance" swooped down on the Uris Theater in a performance that captured and captivated a cheering first-night audience.
Director Wilford Leach has added a kind of Mack Sennett wackiness to the absurdities of the antic tale about Frederic, the "slave of duty" and unwilling apprentice pirate. Adapter-conductor William Elliott's wind ensemble arrangements give a new timbre to the lovely score without violating it, although many will be shocked to learn that Mr. Elliott also borrows songs from a couple of other G&S collaborations and put them in this show. The orchestral and vocal performance responds equally to the robustness, wit, and delicacy of the marvelous Sullivan music. It is undeniably "a glorious thing to be a pirate king" -- or anyone else on the vast stage of the Uris.
Kevin Kline's Pirate King revels in demented derring-do, leaping crazily to the attack with a furious sense of purpose and no sense of direction. His wrong-way Errol Flynn is the quintessence of comic bravura. Mr. Kline is matched, furthermore, by George Rose as the very model of a slyly blimpish major-general Stanley.Mr. Rose's delivery of Gilbert's rhymed tongue-twisters brought deserved cheers and encores.
Estelle Parsons makes a feisty spinster of ruth, the "piratical maid-of-all-work" who dotes on Frederic, and Tony Azito's Sergeant turns out to be a human windmill of eccentric dancing. (A cheer, at this point, for Graciela Daniele's uninhibited choreogrpahy.) Last but by no means least, Linda Ronstadt sings with a limpid coloratura and makes an exquisitely beguiling Mabel for the manly tenor of Rex Smith's Frederic. Their rock should not be disappointed by the pair's excursion into Savoyard country.
Mr. Leach's extravagant daftness occasionally risks the campiness that would have destroyed the operetta. He has, for instance, almost totally obliterated the charm of the silly Stanley daughters. Too bad. Fortunately, this proves a minor flaw in a production whose delights include the "twopence-colored" cutout scenery by Bob Shaw and Mr. Leach. And Patricia McGourty's charming, comically picturesque costumes. Jennifer Tipton sheds luminosity on a theatrical renovation which should last at least until somebody decides to bestow a knighthood o n producer Joseph Papp.