by Terrance Mc Arthur
You don’t expect a 134-year-old musical to rock a theatre, but the Good Company Players’ production of The Pirates of Penzance rocks Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater…with laughter.
The Gilbert & Sullivan operetta (subtitled The Slave of Duty) tells of Frederick (Teddy Maldonado), mistakenly apprenticed to the Pirate King (Peter Allwine) by his old nursemaid, Ruth (Tracy Jones or Rebecca Sarkisian, alternating). Upon his release, Frederick plans to see his shipmates captured. He meets a large group of sisters on the seashore, and wins the heart of Mabel (Emily Pessano). The girls are daughters of a Major General (Richard Adamson). To aid in the pirates’ capture, Frederick enlists a group of policemen, led by their Sergeant (Shawn Williams). Silliness ensues.
Maldonado is stalwart and true, seemingly more intelligent than Rex Smith in the 1983 film with Linda Ronstadt. He manages to make the convoluted logic reasonable and take the ludicrous in stride. Pessano is, as always, beautiful and powerful, soaring through the role’s skyrocketing vocal pyrotechnics without getting scorched.
Allwine is smooth swagger as The Pirate King, with a swash firmly buckled and a gaggle of sight gags at his disposal (thanks to director Laurie Pessano and propmaster Gabrielle Burton). Sarkisian is lively as the erstwhile servant who misheard instructions and set the plot in action thirteen years previously.
Adamson is properly pompous and rolls through the “Model of a Modern Major-General” song with aplomb, more droll than as the title character in Woodward Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Williams grew up—and up—in the GCP Junior Company, and now frequently lends his limber grace and towering presence to full productions. It is nice to see him featured.
Two of Mabel’s sisters should be mentioned for praise. Christy Hathaway as Edith has a blockbuster voice that supports Pessano, and Kindle Cowger as Kate and Mortimer jumps nimbly around the stage. Since Cowger changes from sister to policeman when needed, it just proves that you can’t have your Kate and Edith, too.
Be kind to Martin Martinez and Elizabeth Henrickson. They run spotlights for the show , and are tasked with picking out cast members in multiple locations on the stage and through the audience. This is a good show for staying in your seat, or you may be swept along by the action in a physical way. In addition, clean out any earwax before attending a performance. You don’t want to miss a syllable of the unbelievably fast and crisp vocals, coached by Sarkisian.
GCP is still going strong after 40 years, and this production is a typical example of the strength of a program that has fostered the growth of such performers as Audra McDonald, Sharon Leal, and Chris Colfer. See this show and marvel at the depth of talent you can find in Fresno.
The Pirates of Penzance plays through July 13 on the Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater stage, 1226 N. Wishon Avenue at Olive Avenue, across from the Tower Theatre. Contact the box office at 559-266-9494 or the website.
[By the way, if you want the Key Lime Pie at intermission, tell your waiter as soon as you get there, because it goes quickly.]
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