Review: ‘Pirates!’

Art Basel

Shiver my timbers! Not since the swashbuckling days of Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power has the Jolly Roger flown so high. Broadway's "The Pirate Queen" may walk the plank this weekend, but the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" pic is asail at moviehouses and reality treasure hunt "Pirate Master" has preemed on CBS.

Shiver my timbers! Not since the swashbuckling days of Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power has the Jolly Roger flown so high. Broadway’s “The Pirate Queen” may walk the plank this weekend, but the third “Pirates of the Caribbean” pic is asail at moviehouses and reality treasure hunt “Pirate Master” has preemed on CBS. In a last-ditch effort to save the financially floun-dering Paper Mill Playhouse, Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” has been reworked as “Pirates!” and brought to the rescue. As an elaborately staged concert version, on the order of City Center Encores!, the production abounds in vivacity, charm and musical allure.

While faithful to the original operetta’s core, this freshly conceived and performed update is an appealing confection. When this happy band of pirates bounds ashore on a little Caribbean island brandishing blades and swigging from tankards of rum, they are also singing those infectious lyrics so craftily designed by William Gilbert to the lilting melodic tunes of Arthur Sullivan. The delights are legion.

Andrew Varela’s Pirate King is a rascally buccaneer with a richly booming voice and a lusty presence. His crew is a comic band of knockabout clowns, including one raffish swab who wears an eye-patch and hook and seems unaware of the parrot perched on his shoulder.

Ed Dixon stops the show when he sings the tongue-twisting “very model of a modern Major General.” The young lovers are played with delicious comic allure by Farah Alvin and Barrett Foa. And Liz McCartney’s blowzy nursemaid is all fun and fancy; she even strides a cannon and shoots candy chocolate coins into the audience.

One couldn’t ask for a more agreeable sextet of marriageable maidens than the golden-haired, giggling beauties in pink and white pantalets. Instead of the customary buffoonery of Keystone Kops, the Major General is protected by a legion of sappy servants led by Gerry McIntyre’s high-kicking valet.

Gordon Greenberg’s lively staging takes shape with the orchestra onstage and the principal action downstage, virtually in the au-dience’s lap. The colorful buccaneer garb wardrobe and props came via Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut.

Financial assist to save the Paper Mill from threatened closure was the result of 3,500 donations and a $3.5 million bank loan. A new season is waiting in the wings, as well as a possible $20 ticket price increase to stabilize the financial crisis.

Pirates!

Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, N.J.; 1,200 seats; $68 top

Production

A Paper Mill Playhouse presentation of a musical in two acts with book and lyrics by William S. Gilbert, music by Arthur S. Sullivan, additional book and lyrics by Nell Benjamin. Conceived by Gordon Greenberg, John McDaniel, Benjamin. Directed by Greenberg. Musical director, conductor, Shawn Cough. Choreography, Warren Carlyle.

Creative

Set, Rob Bissinger; costumes, David C. Woolard; lighting, Jeff Croiter; sound, Randy Hansen; hair and wigs, Pat Marcus, Stephanie Marletta, Jim Belcher; fight direction, Michael Rossmy; production stage manager, Rolt Smith. Opened, reviewed June 13, 2007. Runs through July 8. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

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