Review: ‘Pirates’ production gem of a tale

C-R Production's presentation of the Gilbert & Sullivan classic "The Pirates of Penzance" is a brill

Oh, Capital Region citizens, high tail it to Cohoes!

For the folks on Remsen Street have staged one of their finest shows.

’Tis G&S done by Jim Charles, orchestra, cast and crew

That pull out all the stops to make a theatrical treat for you.

‘The Pirates of Penzance’

WHERE: C-R Productions, Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen St., Cohoes

WHEN: Through Feb. 19

HOW MUCH: $35-$25

MORE INFO: 237-5858, or

Well, I can’t go on in this vein: no Sir William Gilbert, I. But his witty lyrics to Sir Arthur Sullivan’s whistlable tunes make one want to try. The day after seeing their 1879 operetta, “The Pirates of Penzance,” I’m still in the thrall of pirates, policemen and a bevy of beautiful daughters.

Gilbert & Sullivan are, of course, in a class of their own, a special category of operetta. Out to skewer conventions in art, politics and social class, they produced 14 musicals over an 18-year period that kept late 19th-century Britain amused.

This gem tells the tale of Frederic (John Farchione), such a “slave to duty” that he often says and does the silliest things. Inadvertently apprenticed to pirates by his nursemaid (Eleanore Thomas), he remains loyal until his 21st birthday, when he will resume his position as a respectable Englishman and destroy these very same friends.

Ah, respectability. There’s an attribute ripe for satire, because hypocrisy is always lurking in the shadows of that sunny condition. Most of the characters come in for a tweaking: a bunch of fearful pirates, led by the bluff Pirate King (Jesse Coleman); a dim-witted Major General (Jerry Christakos); the Major’s octet of spoiled and designing daughters, most notably Mabel (Kellie Cundiff); and a bunch of timid policemen who, despite the urgings of patriotic Brits eager to conquer the pirates, are loath to march off to “slaughter and glory.”

Act II properly complicates the problems of Act I, problems that are resolved by Queen Victoria. She never appears, but the mere mention of her name prompts everyone to behave. In the blink of an eye, seamen and maidens are betrothed because that’s how a comedy ends.

This is a brilliant production. Matthew J. Fick’s set and lighting create a colorful, pop-up book look. Karin Mason’s costumes are so detailed you’d like each performer to stand still for a longer look. Ditto Michael Dunn’s wigs. And Jeff West’s technical direction is seamless.

Director Jim Charles and music director Miles Mandwelle (who, from the keyboard, leads a top-notch pit band) have made a dream cast dreamier. Sullivan knew his Rossini and Donizetti, and Farchione and Cundiff, both delightful throughout, toss off the high notes and runs these operatic roles require.

Thomas uses her trained alto to great effect to set up the plot in Act I and cavort in subsequent scenes. Coleman wields his big baritone to reveal a proud pirate and his rubbery face to betray the scoundrel’s inevitable disappointments. Christakos, looking like Terry Thomas, nails the famous patter song and clowns charmingly elsewhere. Rounding out the principals are Marc de la Concha (amusingly Smee-like!); Alex Reitze, a nimble-footed leader of goofy cops; and Megan Cone and Melissa Basolo, two darling daughters.

The whole evening is ensemble work at its best. Take your eye off a lead, scour the chorus and you’ll see everyone in character, doing a humorous bit.

It takes great effort to create so much fun for the audience. Thanks to the talents of Gilbert & Sullivan and Jim Charles, it must also have been also fun to do.

Categories: Entertainment

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