Gilbert & Sullivan Classic Gets a Truly Grand Opening
By George B. Parous
With a stage full of talent, and a good sized, well rehearsed orchestra below, The Pittsburgh Savoyards last night gave the opening performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance at the Carnegie Music Hall in Carnegie. A fair sized audience seemed to be having as good a time as the performers, but this show deserves full houses. Stage Director Robert Hockenberry, who has a skilled hand in several other phases of the production, has provided colorful and clever backgrounds against which the abundant talent shines, and the lead roles and large ensembles gave what can only be described as a brilliant opening night.
The Pirates of Penzance, easily one of G & S’s best efforts, has been entertaining audiences since it opened at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York City, on New Year’s Eve, 1879-’80. Since American copyright laws of the day offered no protection to “foreigners,” the composer and librettist chose an American premiere after their H. M. S. Pinafore was swiped by over 100 American troupes, most of which made small fortunes due to the popularity of the work. By premiering “Pirates” in New York, and delaying publication of the score, G & S were able, for some time at least, to reap profits from the American productions as well.\
It’s easy to understand the work’s popularity. The plot is harmless fun, full of British drollery and a few good old American, laugh out loud moments (or was that just me?). There are catchy tunes, campy characters, and overall fun and escapism. The Savoyards captured the spirit of the comic opera and projected it into the auditorium for anyone who needed pure entertainment. It started as soon as the lights dimmed. Conductor Guy Russo has an orchestra that framed the evening with a well played rendition of the overture, and provided solid support through the rest of the performance.
The “star parts” were in good hands, but nearly all will rotate across the three weekends of performances. Frederic, the “apprentice pirate,” only because as a youth his hearing impaired nurse was instructed to apprentice him to a “pilot,” was played by Paul Yeater. He’s a young man with a pleasing, light tenor voice that was increasingly under his control as the performance went on. He acted the part with a refined discretion that made the character a standout. Anyone who has seen Sally A. Denmead in action can well imagine what she did with the role of Ruth, the hearing impaired “Piratical Maid of All Work.” She’s a first class singing comedian, always, and last night was no exception.
Andy Hickly, as the Major-General Stanley, and Logan Newman, as the Pirate King, were two others who delivered outstanding performances of genuinely fun characters. In action and singing, they were the characters, down to the last campy detail. A vocal standout was Alexandra Aks, as Mabel, Frederic’s love interest and one of the Major General’s numerous daughters (or wards). She has a powerful soprano that easily soars into the realm of grand opera, replete with rapid-fire staccato delivery of astonishing accuracy. She may have been directed to pour out everything she’s got, but in spots where she drowned out the ensemble, we had soprano solos with comic opera accompaniments.
Don Neuhaus (Samuel), Sean Lenhart (Sergeant of Police), Kate Manuel (Edith), Savannah Simeone (Kate), and Constance Morin (Isabel) rounded out the remaining parts well, and since they played such a vital role in the overall success of the performance as a whole, the entire ensemble is worthy of mention. The Major-General’s large number of delightful daughters were Kat Bowman, Michelle Cali, Leslie Clark, Chelsie Clydesdale, Deborah Geary, Jordan Hightower, Inara Manzetti, Tamara Marlise Manzetti, Kathryn Morosky, Elizabeth Partee, Brienne Sharo, Marichristine Storch and Kira Varela.
The Pirates of Penzance were Mark Alt, Martin Atschul, Adam Birch, Chris Carter, Lynette Garlan, Megan Kelly, Sarah Schultz, Steve Travis and Myles Zuckerman. The comically choreographed Policemen were Gerry Neuhaus, Don Gudenburr, Phil Hayes, Jeremy Ernstoff and Joshua Schreiber.
This show is very highly recommended. For full production details, performance dates, cast changes, information about the live-streams of the last two shows and TICKETS, visit The Pittsburgh Savoyards at https://www.pittsburghsavoyards.org/wordpress/pirates-2022/
The Production Crew for The Pirates of Penzance –
Music Director, Guy Russo; Stage Director, Robert Hockenberry; Production Manager, Lynette Garlan; Production Stage Manager, Andrea Lisiak; Technical Director, Matt Lisiak; Lighting Designer, Garth Schafer; Costumier, Ellen Rosen; Properties Designer, Leslie Clark; Assistant Conductor, Andrew Peters
Photography – Lara Rogers
Poster Art – Matthew Lisiak