Toronto Operetta Theatre opened a run of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance at the Jane Mallett Theatre last night. Bill Siva-Marin’s production is competent and very traditional with some strong performers in the key roles. It won’t leave you with any new insights into the piece but it’s a well executed production which is lots of fun and very funny in places. When I say traditional I mean pirates in pantomime pirate dress, maidens in some stereotypically Victorian maiden garb and a Major General in a cod colonial uniform. Tnere are the traditional mild updatings to the libretto including a couple of rather well crafted verses in the MG’s patter song that reference the Glorious Leader of our neighbour to the south. There are also a few nice touches. In the second act the MG spends much of the time clutching a bust of one of his purchased ancestors and the “catlike tread” scene is noisily anything but. That said, the choreography and blocking are pretty formulaic though there are some deft touches in the Personenregie. Mabel’s body language in Oh! Is there not one maiden breast? is worth a look.
So it’s down to the performances and the lead quartet are really rather good. Vania Chan plays Mabel and it’s a very good fit for her. There’s lots of high coloratura which she nails sweetly and accurately and she’s a lovely mover especially when she’s freed of the constraints of the group choreography. Colin Ainsworth brings his considerable vocal and acting to talents to the role of Frederick. His light bright voice blends really well with Chan and he’s convincingly young. Curtis Sullivan (no relation) continues his progression from semi naked Opera Atelier barihunk to operetta dodderer. Actually here he combines dodderiness and swagger rather well as the Major General and handles the patter song crisply and cleanly. Finally there’s Nicholas Borg making his debut as the Pirate King. He manages the right touch of sentimentality without being too cloying and is a more than decent singer(note this role is double cast and she may get the reliable Janaka Welihinda instead). The supporting roles are handled very decently, the chorus is enthusiastic and very physical and there’s a small band in the pit rather than just piano. Derek Bates is deft in his musical direction.
The temptation to conclude with a couple of extra verses from the MG’s song is strong but I can’t find a rhyme for “Brechtian” so I’ll quit while I’m ahead. There are five more performances between now and January 8th including a New Year’s Eve Gala show. Tickets and times at https://boxoffice.stlc.com/public/show.asp
Production photos when I get them.