The press release is spot on.
“The Marriott Theatre (in Lincolnshire) presents A TREASURE CHEST OF ALL-STARS in, ‘The Pirates of Penzance’” through June 10.
Led by hometown-boy-back-from-Broadway-success Kevin Earley as the Pirate King and Broadway-credentialed Omar Lopez-Cepero as Frederic, a massive ensemble of regional and local stars energetically swashbuckles its way through the W.S. Gilbert lyrics to Arthur Sullivan’s music with the professionalism expected of Chicagoland’s most popular regional theater.
There is much to like about this Dominic Missimi-directed production beyond the obvious talent of the show’s leads, including Patricia Noonan as Mabel. Boisterous pirates of which Johnny Depp would be proud, rapping English cops hysterically choreographed by Matt Raftery and Major-General Stanley (Ross Lehman), whose anachronistic Seussical poetry brings down the house, combine for better slapstick than any 2-D Stooges offering. Lavish costumes and simple, elegant scenery are taken for granted at Marriott; they shouldn’t be.
And it’s hard to argue “Pirates’” staying power. Originally performed in December 1879 in New York, the Gilbert and Sullivan successor to their acclaimed “HMS Pinafore” tweaks American theater pirates who essentially stole the Englishmen’s previous hit, performing it on the American stage with no royalties going to its authors in the absence of international copyright law. So the duo brought “Pirates” to premiere in New York where American copyright protection governed.
The story itself is simple and purposefully preposterous. A young man apprenticed to a pirate ship until his 21st birthday leaves his servitude but remains duty bound to return because his Feb. 29 birth date makes him only 5-and-a-quarter. Of course, he was only there because his maid Ruth (Alene Robertson) mistakenly believed she was apprenticing him to a pilot, not a pirate. And so the precursory wordplay to Monty Python’s British humor begins.
It continues, weaving soft-hearted pirates with orphan roots as their bond into a band of squealing maidens, spawn of the ridiculously pompous Major-General. Together they unfold a story of honor, duty and love suitable for all ages. A full synopsis is found here.
With such top-notch talent, frenetic frolic and pithy puns, this is a can’t miss show, right?
Not necessarily. As evidenced by this conversation overhead leaving the theater opening night:
Teenage Daughter: Well, there’s one show I never have to see again.
Dad: What do you mean? You have to admit, this is an incredibly talented cast.
Teenage Daughter: Yeah, but it was no, “Legally Blonde.”
Dad: But the guy who played the Pirate King…
Together: …But I’d rather see him as Jean Valjean.
So the debate will rage through at least mid-June. Does Gilbert and Sullivan’s 130-year-old, predictably funny operetta without a standout, signature tune deserve a place in today’s professional, metropolitan theater scene?
Marriott is banking on a collective audience answering, “Yes.” It’s just hard to watch all this talent without yearning for an even better showcase.
“The Pirates of Penzance” runs through June 10 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire; tickets are $41-$49 with student and senior discounts and dinner packages available. Parking is free. Tickets and information are available through the Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847-634-0200 or marriotttheatre.com.