Break out the superlatives for the 5th Avenue’s wholly entertaining production of The Pirates of Penzance — this is a show that will garner breathless notices of “amazing,” “breathtaking,” “captivating” and on down the alphabet, and it deserves them all. In a season almost totally devoted to contemporary works (the classic but staid Music Man notwithstanding), it’s heartening to see the 5th closing out the season with Gilbert & Sullivan’s 19th Century masterpiece, a comic opera that anticipated much of musical theater convention.
Transposing the action to British Columbia (and swapping out British soldiers for Canadian Mounties), the 5th’s production is boisterous fun, directed and choreographed expertly by James Rocco, who infuses nearly every scene with dynamic energy. Rocco is a master at orchestrating movement — fighting and dancing are manic yet graceful, and even when the action flags a bit, Rocco’s stagings never become static.
The mostly local cast is led by out-of-towner Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Frederic, the good-hearted lad who discovers that his indentured servitude to the nefarious but sentimental Pirates of Penzance may not be over as soon as he thought. That complicates things in his budding romance with the general’s daughter Mabel (Anne Eisendrath), but for Frederic and the pirates, duty triumphs over all, a fact constantly affirmed by the Pirate King.
Let me just put this out there: Brandon O’Neill’s rakish, assured performance as the Pirate King confirms the fact that he is in fact a bona fide star, if that weren’t already abundantly clear from his enormously winning turns in Rent, Ramayana, First Date, Guys and Dolls, and pretty much everything else he’s appeared in on Seattle stages. There are rumblings that O’Neill could be soon headed to Broadway, and it’s not too difficult to imagine his career launching to even greater heights from there. Even more reason to see Pirates; who knows if we’ll have that many more chances to see O’Neill in Seattle?
O’Neill’s hardly the only attraction here though; Eisendrath’s bright, impeccably controlled soprano, Herdlicka’s exceptional vocal clarity, Anne Allgood’s dogged enthusiasm as jilted nursemaid Ruth, and David Pichette’s mischievous twinkle as the scene-stealing Major-General (you know which scene, of course) are all highlights. Throw in Tom Sturge’s charmingly old-school scenic design, and you’ve got a show that is nothing less than delightful.
The Pirates of Penzance is on stage at the 5th through Aug. 4. Tickets are available for purchase online.