Victorian Lyric Opera’s ‘Pirates of Penzance’ elicits laughter, delight

There’s no doubt that The Pirates of Penzance is one of the most beloved of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works. Like most Gilbert and Sullivan tales, it takes clever jabs at the politics of its time while remaining interesting and relevant to modern audiences. Directed by Amy M. Sullivan, The Victorian Lyric Opera Company presents a Penzance which does not disappoint.

Photo Credit: Harvey Levine

The plot is simple: Frederic (Billy Binion)—a young man finishing out his 21-year indenture to the famed “Pirates of Penzance”—longs to find a mate. When he stumbles upon the wards of a Major-General Stanley (Gary Sullivan) he falls madly in love with one of the young women, Mabel (Rebecca Kaye). The ensuing comedic operetta details his challenges in pursuing her.

One of the major highlights of this production is the talented cast. Binion plays well the young and lovelorn Frederic. His voice is smooth, youthful and capable of engaging with the show’s more maudlin scenes. In “Oh! false one, you have deceiv’d me,” Binion’s mournful tones lament the betrayal and deception of his homely nurse, Ruth (Colleen Robinson Miller). Kaye provides a lovely foil as Mabel, Frederic’s love interest. Her beautiful, strong soprano voice is the perfect match for romantic and humorous moments—though I would say she excels at comedic expression in this production.

Photo Credit: Harvey Levine

Stand out roles in this production are Sullivan’s Major-General Stanley and Jonathan Caudill’s Pirate King. Crowd pleasers “Oh, better far to live and die” and “I am the very model of a modern Major-General” hit all the right notes in this Penzance. The cast also includes a large and talented ensemble which brings life to the music. Additionally, the live orchestra—led by Conductor and Assistant Music Director Amy Broadbent—lends a fullness to a score which has a tendency to sound repetitive.

Choreographer Jacklyn Rogers has done a fantastic job with the large cast and limitations of space in the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre. “When the foeman bares his steel” is a prime example of the choreography communicating the mood of upright, but frightened, policeman.

It’s very difficult to keep Gilbert and Sullivan fresh. The Victorian Lyric Opera Company has chosen add to the Major-General Stanley role the additional role of movie director. The entire operetta takes place as if it were being filmed on a set. The director’s chair sits at the fore of the stage to remind the audience of this. I believe this framing device works well and doesn’t detract from the original material.

Photo Credit: Harvey Levine

Set Designer Bill Pressly does well with what is available. The pirate ship is clever and impressive. Opera sets are often lacking, but this one is a perfect match for the overall production. Props must also be given to Costume Designer Stacey Hamilton whose work here appropriately evokes the mid-19th Century. The variety of materials and color variation in the pirates’ and ward’s outfits was very pleasing to the eye.

The Pirates of Penzance at The Victorian Lyric Opera Company will delight longtime Gilbert and Sullivan fans as well as newcomers. Laughter is the order of the day for this wayward crew of brigands. With strong leads and a superb ensemble, this is the perfect production for the whole family.

Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Pirates of Penzance plays through March 1, 2020 at The Victorian Lyric Opera Company playing at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre—603 Edmonston Drive in Rockville, MD. Tickets can be purchased online.


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