Albert Bergeret and his New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players have once again arrived at the City Center Theater to try and make the New York City winter a little more pleasant. This company, now in its 33rd anniversary season, presents Gilbert and Sullivan classics in repertory. The large ensemble is supported by a 25-piece orchestra conducted by Bergeret. The company even had kidï¿½s events before the performance where children have a chance to meet the Penzance characters, learn about the songs and plot, or get a backstage tour before the performance. NYGASP have built an excellent reputation as one of the few companies in the United States that can do Gilbert & Sullivan, which is why I was so disappointed in their production of The Pirates of Penzance.
According to NYGASP notes, "Set on the rocky coast of Cornwall, England, The Pirates of Penzance centers on a band of tenderhearted pirates celebrating the coming of age of their apprentice, Frederic. Although Frederic's apprenticing to pirates was the mistake of his nurse maid Ruth, he has dutifully served, but he now announces his plan to devote his life to the extermination of piracy. The naï¿½ve young man meets a group of beautiful girls, their father, the delightfully dotty Major General, and enlists the help of some bumbling policemen. But Ruth and the Pirate King tell Frederic that his apprentice papers state that he won't be of age until his 21st birthday, which won't occur until the distant date of 1940 because Frederic was born in leap year on the 29th of February. Frederic is doomed to remain the pirate apprentice. The policemen try to capture the pirates on their own, but are easily defeated. Everyone is happy to discover that the pirates are really all noblemen who have gone wrong, so all is forgiven in the end.ï¿½
NYGASP have developed a large number of singers that can perform the songs of Gilbert and Sullivan. They are particular excellent when the company sings as a group. They certainly define the word ensemble with their ability to play so many parts. Their ability to change productions within the same series of performances is not easy to accomplish. The problem with this production of the Pirates of Penzance is that it looks and feels old and tired. Stephen Quint as Major-General Stanley seemed to lack the comic timing especially when he sang, ï¿½I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-Generalï¿½. Sarah Caldwell Smith, who has a good soprano voice, lacked the acting skills to play Mabel. It is hard to understand why anyone would fall in love with her in a short period of time. As the curtain rose you could see the wrinkles and creases in the backdrop. The scenic design, which consists of rocks in the first act and ruins in the second act, looked as if it had been rented from a scenic design company. The 25 piece orchestra, which seemed to lack enthusiasm, seemed to fade away during several scenes in the second act. One of the things this company does is to try and add modern references into their productions of Gilbert and Sullivan. Most of their attempts seemed to fall flat, particularly when the Pirates produce silver top hats and went into ï¿½A Chorus Lineï¿½ type dance. The company needs to look at the New York City Operaï¿½s production of Patience to see how classic Gilbert and Sullivan can be made into a modern production.
The Pirates of Penzance was the only Gilbert and Sullivan opera to have its official premiere in New York. At the time, American law offered no copyright protection to foreigners. It is time to remount and rethink the NYGASP production of Pirates.