Ordway’s ‘Pirates of Penzance’ sails in with breezy fun

Dominic P. Papatola, Pioneer Press 8/7/15

Just before the house lights dim for “The Pirates of Penzance,” the pre-show announcement encourages audiences to enjoy the production, “created right here at the Ordway, just for you!”

Except that’s not quite true. This production was created — costume, sets, concept and trio of leading actors — for the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle back in 2013. We know this because the action of the show has been transferred, not to … say … Lake Superior, but to the Pacific Northwest.

Well, maybe “transferred” is too strong a word. Director/choreographer — and Ordway producing artistic director — James A. Rocco and his design team slapped up a backdrop of Mount Rainier, re-costumed the police as Royal Canadian Mounted Police and called it good.

The rest of the costumes and the pop-up storybook concept will do no violence to those who like their Gilbert and Sullivan operettas presented in appropriately Victorian fashion.

Given the time to marinate, this re-created “Pirates” is eminently sure of itself and its decision to turn the goof-o-meter up to 11. No gesture goes unmagnified and no opportunity to mug is squandered. With 19 — count em’! 19! — musicians sawing away in the pit under the baton of Steve Tyler, the music is lush and crisply executed.

Brandon O’Neill — he of the dark good looks and the baritone voice that takes no prisoners — demonstrates that, as the song goes, it is, it is a glorious thing to be a Pirate King. O’Neill is a terrific swashbuckler but, like the rest of his band of brigands, is about as threatening as French toast. Which, of course, is how it should be.

As Frederic, the young man apprenticed to this hapless band, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka is fair-haired, earnest and ridiculously duty-bound as one could want, with a tenor voice that effortlessly sails through the score. Anne Eisendrath completes the trio of Seattle imports as Mabel, the lass Frederic loves. She doesn’t seem to have gotten the “it’s-not-done-till-it’s-overdone” memo, but her crystal coloratura soprano is the loveliest of a very strong company of singers.

Of the local performers, Kersten Rodau logs another in a series of funny and memorable character performances as Ruth, the not-really-lovely pirate maid who schemes to keep Frederic in the pirate band. Dieter Bierbrauer’s sergeant of police has the right amount of Jell-O in his spine.

Gary Briggle gets the opportunity to sing the patter song that’s also the most recognizable tune of the show. He’s not the very model of a modern major-general, though: While his mien is spot-on, is articulation is muddy.

This “Pirates” doesn’t display an abundance of unique creativity, and may not win any new fans for Gilbert and Sullivan. It is, however, a good-looking, well-sung and lustily performed production which passes its 2-1/2 hours pleasingly.

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