The satin voice of Laura Wehrmeyer and the virile stage presence of Christopher Guy Thorn mark the high points of the Arlington Players' production of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operetta "The Pirates of Penzance."
Thorn is "The Pirate King" in W.S. Gilbert's wonderfully witty 1880 concoction, a story of the apprentice to a band of pirates who aren't very good at their trade — seems that they're all orphans, and won't steal from anyone else who has had that misfortune. As their apprentice informs them: "It has gotten about, and what is the consequence? Everyone we capture says he's an orphan."
He's been apprenticed to them "until his 21st birthday," and since he is about to turn 21, he's looking forward to leaving the band of brigands. They inform him, however, that he was born in a leap year, and thus, won't have his 21st birthday until sometime in the 1940s.
It is silliness like this that makes most of Gilbert and Sullivan's dozen comic operettas please audiences decade after decade, as they have for more than a century. This one is still produced throughout the English speaking (and singing) world by professional, community and school theater groups hundreds or thousands of times a year.
Just silliness isn't enough to explain the popularity of "Penzance" or "H.M.S. Pinafore" or the team's biggest hit "The Mikado." The humor of Gilbert's scripts seems to be in perfect contrast to the beauty of Arthur Sullivan's music. His scores are full of lyrical ballads, boisterous marches, full-throated choruses and rapid patter songs.
WEHRMEYER IS the lovely love interest in the play. The apprentice spies her on the beach near Penzance in England along with her sisters and friends. He's never seen such a lovely girl in his life. Of course, he's not seen many girls at all, being at sea all the time. He's swept away with love for her, especially as she sings Sullivan's lovely "Poor wand'ring one."
Throughout the evening, Wehrmeyer's voice soars either in solo or above full choruses.
This combination of the sublimely silly and the simply sublime requires a production that takes its material but never itself too seriously. The Arlington Players' director, Malcolm Edwards, seems to understand this and, as a result, most of his cast seem to be enjoying themselves on stage immensely.
There are a number of parts that give performers a chance to shine.
Unfortunately, the part of the apprentice places too many requirements on Lane Smith, whose voice is not quite strong enough for some of the solos.
Albert Coia, a veteran of professional as well as community productions, handles the classic comic role of the conceited popinjay who sings the famous "I am the very model of a modern Major General."
David Henderson is a standout as the Pirate King's lieutenant, and Rodrigo J. Vega adds to the sense of foolishness as the sergeant of the police force that attempts to sneak up on the pirates "with cat-like tread." Renee Moyer is great fun in the role of Ruth, the "Pirate Maid of all Work."
As with many productions of Gilbert and Sullivan, additional lyrics have been prepared which introduce some topical humor of the kind Gilbert worked in to his scripts. The humorous references to things in the news in 1880 are still there, but for this production Jack Marshall and Bill Karukas have added new material which matches the original in feel.
An orchestra of 15 is led by Mark V. Deal, giving the singers solid support, and the company even adds an extended series of reprises for a curtain call that feels something like modern "mega-mix" versions of the score assembled by Porter Lyon from the original arrangements.
Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a Web site covering theater in the region (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.