‘The Pirates of Penzance’ at Encore Stage and Studio by Julia L. Exline

Encore Stage and Studio presents Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, a two-act operetta that has remained in production since 1879. Directed by Evan Hoffmann, this production is recommended for ages 6+.

Erin Driscoll (Mabel) and Chris Sizemore (Frederic). Photo by Larry McClemons.

The set, also designed by Evan Hoffman, is a remarkable one. An intricately designed, life-sized pirate-ship lays docked before a bright blue sky. Waves underneath, as well as a skull-and-cross-bones pirate flag, sway along to the beat of the music throughout the show, and the ship itself is able to move in and out of sight. For act two, the stage is transformed into a ruined chapel, with imposing iron gates, old-fashioned tombs, stained-glass windows, and derelict statues.

Music Director Douglas Ullman, Jr. perfectly synchronizes the songs with choreography by Sarah Conrad, and the stage remains well lit by Sydney J. Rosen (and I especially liked the bluish tint that glowed ominously during the chapel scenes – very ghostly). My favorite element of this show, however, has to be the costumes, designed by Kristen Jepperson. The Pirates are decked in bold colors and an assortment of accessories; from tri-corned hats, handkerchiefs, vests, sashes, all the way to the golden hoop earrings and eye patches. No single pirate looks like another—they are each given their own unique characteristics. The women sweep the stage in elaborate dresses filled with ruffles, lace, frills, pleats, bows, clasps, buttons, and studs. All of these fabrics and fixings are woven together in one dress, mind. With the women all huddled together onstage, these exhaustive dresses give off the impression of a bunch of frosted little cakes, and it is hard not to marvel at them.

Erin Driscoll (Mabel) and Chris Sizemore (Frederic). Photo by Larry McClemons.

Noble hearted Frederic (Chris Sizemore) is all too ready to leave his fumbling band of pirates, to whom he had been mistakenly apprenticed to until his 21st birthday. Led by a fanciful Pirate King (Mike Holland) this particular band of pirates are clumsy and completely inept, prompting Frederic to exclaim that they are too “tender-hearted.”  Upon his discharge, Frederic runs into a large group of sisters and falls in love with Mabel (Erin Driscoll), the youngest. Driscoll’s aria “Poor Wandering One” shows off a highly impressive vocal scale, so much so that a stagehand jokingly comes onstage to give her a sip of water so that she may continue. The choreography between Frederic and Mabel is mischievous and teasing, and very well executed. Mabel’s father, Major General (Christopher Thorn) has one of the most enjoyable arias, “I Am the Very Model of A Modern Major-General,” which has been playfully modernized for this production with references to topics such as Obamacare and Justin Bieber. Sizemore provides gorgeous vocals on “”Oh, is there not one maiden breast?” And together with Driscoll their “Stay, Fred’ric, stay” … “Oh, here is love, and here is truth” is thrilling.

Frederic’s happily newfound life becomes complicated when “A Paradox,” sung by Ruth (Tara Koslov), Frederic, and The Pirate King comes to light. All sorts of chaos ensue, loyalties are challenged, and barters are raised. Will Frederic be able to stay with his newfound love?

This show, while written in a loftier, older English, is filled with cartoonish movements and slapstick comedy that make it perfect for both children and adults. With a mixture of professional adult actors and younger children in the cast, Encore Stage and Studio continues to influence young adult theatre and provide an encouraging atmosphere for them to thrive. Take a ride on the high seas and take in a showing of The Pirates of Penzance because it’s fun for the whole family!

Running time is 120 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Pirates of Penzance plays through July 29, 2012 at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre—125 S. Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, please call (703) 548-1154, or order them online.


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