Pirates of Penzance Review - The Tropical Original of the Hypocrites' Winter Rep

Frederick (Doug Pawlik) learns of his pirate clause

My enormous crush on the Hypocrites has grown to such a degree that it is difficult to hide - I’ve now seen two out of the three Gilbert & Sullivan shows in rep right now and avidly await the mood-changer of Halena Kays’ take on Samuel Beckett’s Endgame coming up in their season. These three delectable Gilbert & Sullivan sweets are an innovative, non-denominational, family friendly kind of an experience that will pull you out of hibernation both in holiday and (even worse) post-holiday seasons. Audience members of all ages attended, ran around, each age demographic dissolving into a fit of giggles. I came first to see H.M.S. Pinafore knowing nothing from that late 19th Century duo, but I learned very quickly about it through the self aware, campy, fun atmosphere adapter-director Sean Graney and his ensemble conjured. That atmosphere was still present in this tightly directed and crafted show (over the course of a 5 year, multi-city run, the ensemble knows the show throughout), however - maybe it was the matinee performance, or a different audience vibe, or something, but I enjoyed Pinafore more, and I also found it to be a better production.

The Gilbert & Sullivan Rep Ensemble

The pairing of H.M.S. Pinafore and Pirates of Penzance inherently establishes an arena of comparison - both Penzance and Pinafore are set at sea, centering on lovers torn apart and fighting against concepts (social class in Pinafore, sense of duty in Penzance) featuring meddling parents and grotesque older characters straight out of commedia, and are similarly composed and musically adapted operettas. Graney makes a striking choice with the gender reversal and costuming in Pinafore, but it was made clear to me that Penzance was the oldest and most well known of the three. In Penzance, a young pirate apprentice Frederick (Doug Pawlik) is freed from a bond to a tender-hearted pirate crew, and immediately falls in love with Mabel, the Major-General (Matt Kahler)’s daughter. When a secret clause in Frederick’s apprenticeship comes to light, he learns that because he is a Leap baby (technically an 8-year-old boy) and owes 63 more years to the pirates, pulling him away from his faithful and banjo-toting Mabel (Christine Stulik). The plot is a classic, made more relatable by the amount of modern fun infused into the adaptation - admittedly, I hid behind an inflatable dolphin with two 8-year-olds, I even got to wave the Jolly Roger with my best friend. But the entire cast was not fully in it, and it was also a struggle at times to both hear and comprehend the content of the music.

Stulik as the lover, Mabel


Stulik’s double casting as both Ruth, Frederick’s homely nursemaid, and Mabel was both controlled, exacting, and hilariously fun - as are all the roles I’ve seen her in. Mabel’s vocal parts are tough, and she hit it, but it was often difficult to understand her, and most of her character’s relationships in the play. A lot of the cast seemed to do the same, acting for just their parts, their relationships didn’t really extend past themselves - which was so jarring, because I found Pinafore to be such a cohesive ensemble piece. The two major exceptions to this statement are Kahler as the Major-General and Shawn Pfautsch playing a pirate and police officer in the ensemble. Kahler is an aggressively joyous force onstage: from his celebration, to his sorrowful keening, to his just a little pompous rendition of the operatta’s iconic song because he WAS the very model of a modern Major-General. Equal in vocal capability and pure presence was Pfautsch: as an ensemble member he stood out by making everyone else look fantastic, and he possessed this clarity in his singing voice and in his very selective moments of comedy. Those two were exemplary out of an already good ensemble, however, I wished to see as much brightness throughout.


The Modern Major-General

Real Talk: Definitely go see the Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance, as well as H.M.S. Pinafore and The Mikado, it’s a repertory that will not disappoint. Maybe you’ll have a different experience than my most recent viewing, largely because of the spritely energy of this company’s ensemble. It is a bright winter pick-me-up you don’t want to miss. There are only three weeks left to catch each show of the Gilbert & Sullivan Rep at The Den Theatre, 1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. For a detailed schedule of individual performances, please visit www.the-hypocrites.com. There will be a marathon of all three productions on Saturday, February 7 at 11 am (H.M.S. Pinafore), 3 pm (The Mikado) and 8 pm (The Pirates of Penzance).

Photos by Evan Hanover

Top of Page

Join Splash Magazines

Feature Article

Tempflow™ and Tempur-Pedic® Reviews - What 35 Hours of Research Uncovered

Want Your Business to Male a Splash
<!-- #wrapper -->