‘Pirates of Penzance’ delivers a treasure


Ben Barker (Frederic) and Cecilia Iole (Mable) try for an intimate moment but her sisters want to listen in and watch in Pirates of Penzance at Music Theater Works. (Photos by Brett Beiner)
Ben Barker (Frederic) and Cecilia Iole (Mable) try for an intimate moment but her sisters want to listen in and watch in Pirates of Penzance at Music Theater Works. (Photos by Brett Beiner)

Mix really funny song interpretations with fine operatic voices and you have the hilarious, wonderfully entertaining “The Pirates of Penzance” at Music Theater Works.

Director Rudy Hogenmiller and choreographer Clayton Cross have the not so ferocious Pirate King  (Larry Adams) stretched out horizontally across his comrades in his name song. They have the daughters of the Major- General stumbling as they take-off shoes and stockings to wade then, hurriedly attempt to put them back on when pirate apprentice Frederic (Ben Barker) announces his presence.

After all, Frederic feels it’s his duty and the honorable thing to do to say he is watching. Similarly, if you listen to his lyrics, he doesn’t sugar coat his plea to the daughters for one of them to come with him, even if she is too pimply or plain to attract other beaus.

The lovely Mable (Cecilia Iole) accedes to his request. However the couple are afforded little privacy as her sisters, again riotously stumbling all over each other, attempt to watch and listen.

Then there is the crowd pleasing ”I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” done brilliantly by James Harms who reprised that role from 2009 at Music Theater.

Larry Adams (Pirate King) and his merry band.
Larry Adams (Pirate King) and his merry band.

Of course the show is among Sirs W. S. Gilbert (libretto) and Arthur Sullivan’s (music) series of pokes at British standards of behavior so in it is inherently funny. But the Music Theater Work’s production is among the best I’ve seen because all movements are exaggerated as are such operatic ornamentations as Mabel’s (trills).

As a spoof, the actions and songs should be exaggerated but Hogenmiller can get away with more ham because he is working with a talented cast. They all are veterans of past Music Theater, Broadway or touring musicals and regional or Chicago shows.

Harms was in “The Iceman Cometh” with Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy and “The Visit” with Chita Rivera at the Goodman. Along with several Music Theater productions, Adams was in Sweemey Todd and The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and has appeared at Paramount, Drury Lane, Goodman, Marriott; et. al.

James Harms (Major-General Stanley) is a modern Major-General
James Harms (Major-General Stanley) is a modern Major-General

Barker was in Marriott Theatre’s “Spring Awakening” and “October Sky” and in Paramount Theatre’s Les Miserables.” Iole appeared in Paramount’s “Sweeny Todd” and Rocky Mountain Repertory’s “Les Miserables.”

“Pirates” sub title is “The Slave of Duty.” Frederic felt tied to the pirates until age 21even though it was a mistake by his nursemaid, Ruth (Nancy Hayes), who had him apprentice to a pirate instead of a pilot. But when Ruth feels shunted aside as Frederic plans to go off with Mable, the nursemaid insists he is not 21 because he was born on February 29. The every-four-years birth date means he has to serve the pirates for another 63 years.

Playing Ruth, not an endearing character to audiences, is very different from Hayes’ last role as Mame Dennis in Music Theater’s “Mame” production in 2016. She and the production were the best “Mame” I’ve seen in the Chicago area. She also specializes as Judy Garland in local and regional productions.

Unfortunately, Music Theater productions are a short run so audiences who appreciate Gilbert and Sullivan humor and operettas have only through next weekend to grab a ticket.

DETAILS: “The Pirates of Penzance” is at Music theater Works in Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson at Sheridan Road, Evanston, through June  17. Running time: 2 hrs., 15 min. with one intermission. For Tickets and other information call (847) 920-5360 or visit Music Theater Works.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago



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