Pirates of Penzance Singalong Review – Fun: Pure unadulterated fun

The fun began on March 11, 2012 when we read the program.  With a perfectly straight face we read: 

Cast of Characters

Major-General –
Pirate King –
Samuel –
Frederic  –
Sergeant –
Mabel –
Edith –
Kate –
Isabel –
Ruth –
Chorus of Pirates, Daughters, and Policemen –
F. Lawrence Ewing
Charles Martin
Chris Shuford
Andy Truett
Jonathan Spencer
Jennifer Ashworth
Kelly Powers
Eliza Leoni
Brenna MacIlvaine
Diane D’Angelo
The Audience

The Pirate King (Charles Martin) and Ruth (Diane D'Angelo)

Here’s the setup.  Most of the stage is filled with the full Lamplighters orchestra, led by Pirate-Maestro Baker Peeples.  The narrow strip left in front has a couple of knee-high “rocks” representing the obstacle encountered by Major-General Stanley’s daughters when they go “Climbing over rocky mountains” – and later serving as hiding places for pirates and/or policemen.  All of which leaves a somewhat limited acting area for the various principals and chorus members.

The Presentation Theater in on the campus of the University of San Francisco and has 468 seats.  Not many of those seats were empty, so the chorus must have been close to 400.  No way are they going to fit 400 more people on that stage!  Not to worry.  Before the show started Maestro Peeples faced the audience and laid down a very few ground rules such as

  • Have Fun,
  • Sing,
  • Stay in Your Seats, and
  • Respect Your Neighbor’s Space.

He did not tell us to stay within our voice range – rather the opposite.

Frederic (Andy Truett) and Mabel (Jennifer Ashworth)

“We’re counting on you for all of the chorus parts, of course.  But feel free to accompany any or all of the soloists.  Gender is no barrier.  If one of you brawny basses have a yen to assist Jennifer Ashworth in singing Mabel’s lyric

Poor wandering one,
If such poor love as mine,
Can help thee find,
True peace of mind,
Why take it, it is thine,

go for it.  What’s a couple of octaves between friends?  Same for you coloratura sopranos who agree with Charles Martin that

It is, it is a glorious thing to be a Pirate King.

Peeples turns to the orchestra for a brisk rendition of the overture while I restrain my inclination to hum the familiar melodies, but immediately the stage lights go up and he whips around to lead 400 voices in

Pour, oh pour the pirate sherry!
Fill, oh, fill the pirate glass!
And to make us more than merry,
Let the pirate bumper pass.

And, even though it’s Samuel’s solo, most of us join Chris Shuford and continue with

For to-day our pirate ‘prentice
Rises from indentures freed.
Strong his arm and keen his scent is;
He’s a pirate now indeed!

Mabel, Isabel (Brenna MacIlvaine), Major-General Stanley (F. Lawrence Ewing), Edith (Kelly Powers), and Kate (Eliza Leoni)

As some of you may know, I was born and raised a Savoyard.  From as far back as I remember, there was always a book or two of Gilbert and Sullivan selections on top of our big old square piano.  Any time my mother (and later, one of us children) would sit down and start playing and singing, any family member would join her voice and probably wander over next to the piano.  Without making any conscious effort I absorbed and memorized most of the words to most of the arias in Pirates and other popular G & S operas back when my brain was young and blank.  Even today, when I have to check my calendar to remember which opera I saw last week, I can sing every word of Frederic’s part of his lovely second-act duet with Mabel:

     Ah, must I leave thee here
In endless night to dream,
Where all is dark and drear,
And sorrow all supreme.
Where nature day by day
Will sing in altered tone
This weary round-de-lay,
    “He loves thee, he is gone,
     Fa la la, fa la la.
     He loves thee, he is gone –
     Fa la la, la la la, la la.”

(As a self-test, I typed the above strictly from memory.  Alas, I am not perfect.  When I check it against the actual opening-night lyrics, two short words are wrong and we disagree as to the proper number of “la’s” – I must be getting really old!)

Pirate King, Ruth, Sergeant of Police (Jonathan Spencer), Isobel, Mabel, Kate, and Edith

But my G & S knowledge is primarily of the arias.  I swear most of our chorus knew every line of the opera, including the dialog.  For example immediately after the drinking song above the libretto shows the following:

KING              Yes, Frederic, from to-day you rank as a full-blown member of our band.
ALL                Hurrah!

Well, you should have heard the roar that articulated the last word – from every section of the auditorium.

Three members of the Chorus; photo from the Opera Nut's files

The whole cast entered into the spirit of the thing.  Mabel’s entrance a bit later really set the tone.  Frederic has just finished his plea for love and General Stanley’s daughters respond in song and recitatif:

Alas, there’s not one maiden here
Whose homely face and bad complexion
Have caused all hope to disappear
of ever winning man’s affection.

FREDERIC (In despair)
MABEL (entering)
Not one?
No, no, not one.
Not one?
No, no!
Yes one!
‘Tis Mabel!
Yes, ‘tis Mabel

Jennifer Ashworth has entered from the rear of the auditorium and trips gaily down the aisle singing Mabel’s two lines and spreading that last “Mabel” over about ten seconds of trills and frills.  Most of the audience is singing along with her, albeit a bit tentatively as we’re not always precisely sure what note to be singing when.  Halfway up the steps to the stage, Ashworth pauses, gives a final twirl to her parasol, turns to us with an encompassing gesture and says, “C’mon, you can do better than that!” Maestro Peeples obliges, Mabel repeats her last line, and this time we’re all giving it our best shot.  And we don’t stop as she continues in her show-stopping Poor wandering one solo.  Even the orchestra was smiling – impossible as that may sound for an oboe player.

Costumed adults

And so it continued for a delightful, delicious, fun-filled two and a half hours.  Plus, as a special intermission feature costume judging contests for adults and for children.   Some of the adults’ were quite ingenious.

Costumed children

The little girls were adorable Mabels and Ruths, and the little boys were fearsome Pirates.

As I said at the beginning, “Fun: Pure unadulterated fun.”

.  .  .  .   .   Alas, due to an untimely stay in the hospital, it is now more than two weeks since I started writing this review, and the last of three performances has come and gone.  But cheer up.  It’s less than four years to Frederic’s next birthday on Monday, February 29, 2016.  I fully expect the Lamplighters to continue their tradition and hold a birthday singalong for him on a nearby Sunday.  And I fully intend to be there!

Except as noted, photos by Joanne Kay

All quotes are from The First Night GILBERT and SULLIVAN by Reginald Allen, Heritage Press, 1958

This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in sanfranciscosplash.com on March 29, 2012.

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