Online since August 2002
Turbulence - Charlene Baldridge's theater diary

Gilbert & Sullivan get 'with it'

Published July 25, 2005


A small group from the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle traveled north Saturday (July 23) to Vista's Moonlight Amphitheatre to see a truly marvelous production of Joe Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival version of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance." It is rife with fine Southern California singers cast by longtime San Diego musical theater professionals Don and Bonnie Ward, who staged and choreographed the work according to the 1983 Broadway production choreographed by Graciela Danielle. The Moonlight production also utilizes Papp musical adaptor William Elliott's orchestration, which uses winds instead of strings, plus plenty of brass and percussion. The occasionally discordant accompaniment is purposeful and amusing.

There's much to adore about the 25-year-old producing organization, Moonlight: the outdoor, airplane-free venue at Vista's Brengle Terrace Park, the growing expertise and professionalism of the company, and the fact that with advance reservations you may purchase a sit-down dinner at Feliccia's Terrace inside the Moonlight Amphitheatre. You may also picnic on the grass, grab a picnic table, or bring a picnic dinner to your seats. The rows have that much legroom. This year, the grounds are enhanced by a new entryway. Soon to come are additional restrooms.

So, back to the show. "Pirates" is typical of the Gilbert & Sullivan genre, with an amusingly ridiculous plot and music that parodies grand opera and even itself. Although purists may object to Daniele and Papp's modifications to the original, they are funny and more "with it" than the traditional, stilted shtick handed down from England's D'Oyly Carte, which produced all the original operettas near the end of the 19th century. I know whereof I speak: as a very young woman, I sang in these traditional G&S stagings.

The story concerns Frederic (excellent tenor Richard Bermudez of Highland) who's been apprenticed to a pirate because that's what Ruth, his hearing-challenged nanny (mezzo-soprano Susan E.V. Boland of Coronado) heard instead of "pilot." Those who've seen the film "Master and Commander" know that it was common for British bluebloods to apprentice their sons to the seafaring life. Frederic's indenture is almost up; he's attained the age of 21. Never having seen another woman, he's prepared to marry Ruth; that is, until a bevy of English maidens show up on the Cornwall shore.

Frederic's superior, the swashbuckling Pirate King, is played and sung to the nth by Randall Dodge of Escondido. Dodge is an easeful physical comedian and a smashing actor, as he proved last season in Moonlight's excellent production of Shaw's "Arms and the Man" at the Avo Playhouse. His singing and speaking prowess is remarkable, mellifluous and seductive. How I would love to see him paired with San Diego's Ruff Yeager, who is similar in stature and gifts – what an arch comedic duo they would make! Equity actor Jeffrey Arnold Wolf of Los Angeles turns in an excellent, facile-tongued Major General Stanley, and Melissa Hoff of Pauma Valley, also Equity, displays vocal agility and comeliness as Mabel, Frederic's beloved. Also to be lauded is the performance of Joshua Breckenridge as the sergeant of police.

This highly recommended production of Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance ($17-$33) plays through July 31 at 8 p.m. (gates open at 6:30) Wednesdays through Sundays at Brengle Terrace Park, 1200 Vale Terrace, Vista, www.moonlightstage.com. (760) 724-2110.

Also on the must-see list is UCSD professor Marianne McDonald's lovely Asian fable, "... and then he met a woodcutter," set in Japan just after the Battle of Dan no Ura in 1185. It's a touching, uplifting and pure experience, continuing through July 31 at Cygnet Theatre Company, 6363 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego. Tickets are $15 with discounts for students, seniors, military and groups. woodcutter.info or e-mail woodcutterplay@cox.net. Don't miss the juice place in the same strip mall.

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