In its 14 years of presenting the joys of the Gilbert and Sullivan repertory in
unalloyed, untampered estate, Richard Sheldon’s Opera a la Carte has racked up
an impressive string of triumphant productions. It would be hard to imagine,
even so, a performance of more consistent delight than the company’s “Pirates
of Penzance” given this past Saturday night and Sunday afternoon before
capacity crowds at Ambassador Auditorium.
At a time when some producers feel the need to update these wise and witty
Victorian treasures with modern settings or revisionist jokesmanship, Sheldon’s
company remains steadfast in its belief that the authors knew best. Without any
sense of merely ransacking some museum of bygone mannerisms, Sheldon’s stage
direction has always been directly descended from the comic routines of the
works’ own times.
Better yet, he also clings to pristine orchestrations and full-length musical
numbers. Frank Fetta’s pit band for this “Pirates” may have been undersized,
but the sounds — the marvelous Mendelssohnian wind scoring in particular —
had the ring of authenticity. Above all, Sheldon’s company honors the most
important of all Gilbert-and-Sullivan rubrics, the demand for crisp, flawless
English diction. (Some well-placed floor-level microphones also helped
immeasurably, of course.)
So did the performance itself, an unusually strong and consistent cast this
time around, with a superb pair of lovers in Patrick Gallagher and Lova Lee
Hyatt and, of course, the redoutable Sheldon himself as the nimble-tongued
Major General. Joining them as welcome guest was the grandiose veteran of G&S
performances on two continents, the d’Oyly Carte veteran Donald Adams, whose
Pirate King is simply one of the great creations in any kind of musical theater
these days. Among the day’s veterans, a low bow is also due the magnificent
Eugenia Hamilton, who has done the repertory “heavies”– the nursemaid Ruth,
this time — with the company since its founding.
This, then, is a company to cherish, not only for its own work but also for its
missionary services in keeping this marvelous repertory alive. (Sheldon, for
example, has just been appointed artistic director of the Colorado Gilbert and
Sullivan Festival at Boulder this summer.) For this, and for one of the
season’s most delightful afternoons, “three cheers and one cheer more” are
very much in order.