Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 1, 2016

Barrington Stage’s Summers of Musicals

The Pirates of Penzance
Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield
through August 13, 2016
by Shera Cohen

“Pirates of Penzance” is #10 – that’s ten musicals which I have had the wonderful pleasure of seeing at Barrington Stage Company (BSC).

My journey began in 2004 at a high school basement/auditorium somewhere in the middle of a pastoral oasis in Great Barrington. Getting lost en route, I called (pre-cell phones) the helpful box office volunteer for directions. We ultimately arrived five minutes late. I hate coming late; it is so rude to the actors and audience. Little did I know that the house manager (bless her or him) actually held the curtain just for me. Me?! At the time, I was publisher of Bravo Newspaper. That title gave me a little sense of importance, and I was always proud of Bravo; however, this was not the New York Times, not even close. BSC staff were so courteous to myself and Bravo writers that seats were held. Unknowingly, both the writer and composer of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” sat in my row. Rather, I sat in their row. The world premiere of this lovely, poignant, and hilariously funny musical was destined to become a Broadway Tony Award-winner.

Frankly, I am running out of superlatives as I reread my reviews of BSC’s musical productions. “West Side Story,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “Guys & Dolls” earned complimentary adjectives: fabulous, superb, first rate, respectively. As the summers passed and with each year another musical, came fresh compliments, besting those previously written; i.e. “On the Town” (perfect), “Man of La Mancha” (splendid), and “Kiss Me Kate” (setting the benchmark). And, I don’t even like “Kate,” or so I thought.

When BSC announced the selection of its 2016 musical, I sighed, “Oh well, they can’t win them all.” This would be an operetta. I do love opera, but to me, operetta was a cheapened lesser-class genre. Adding to my lack of enthusiasm were the creators, Gilbert and Sullivan. Yes, the duo is the personification of the art form. However, it takes a certain appreciation of the gentlemen’s talents that I lack. Again, I will say, “or so I thought.”

Here’s a little task for you, the reader. Make note of all of the accolades written above in paragraph 2; mix them up; next add equal amounts of joy, whimsy, and panache; the result is the spectacular creation of “The Pirates of Penzance.” Spectacular, as in stunning to see and remarkable to experience.

Photo by Kevin Sprague
The handsome swashbucklers, pitch-perfect damsels, rock-speed lyrics, colorful palette, playful plot, and crinoline and puffy shirts form the structure of “Pirates.” The precariously situated (trust me, you have to see it) pit orchestra, ship’s staging that fills the entire theatre (not just the stage), choreography to “knock your socks off” (okay, I’m running low on kudos), high-speed clip of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” (the show-stopper that warranted an encore), and audience participation (bravo to Queen Victoria) are just some components that make “Pirates” dazzling, both visually and aurally.

If you only have the time to see one play or musical this summer (I would safely say, this year), sail with “The Pirates of Penzance.”