Orange Coast College is dragging Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance," kicking and screaming, into the 21st century with a robust, rollicking production that deserves much more stage time, but closes Sunday.
Directed with punch and power by Peter Uribe, the 1879 operetta has never been funnier nor more melodic in a local production. The show spills out into the audience and in your face — if you happen to be seated in the third row center.
Uribe, bolstered by Angela Lopez's stellar choreography, has mounted as stirring a revival of this celebrated comic opera as you're likely to witness. Voices are strong, and the laughter comes thick and fast.
At the center of this comedic exercise is the instant romance between Frederick, a young pirate who's leaving the fold (Nikolai Fernandez) and the sweet-voiced Mabel (Rebecca Frechette), one of nine maiden daughters of a British major general, who choose the area near a pirate lair for a day at the beach.
Riotous escapades abound, most commanded by the swarthy pirate king (Wes Timmons) and the pirates' "maid of all work," Ruth (Jessica Slagle), a middle-aged woman with designs on Frederick. Both Timmons and Slagle deliver exemplary performances of tongue-in-cheek villainy with Slagle a visual delight, uglified with one blackened tooth.
Stealing the show in a superlative performance, however, is Rick Golson, normally a director or technician at OCC, who should spend more time on stage. Golson not only scores highly in his role as the ladies' father, but nails the show's most difficult musical number ("I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General") with unerring thrust and pompous comedic pizzazz.
Recruited to challenge the pirates is a contingent of bobbies who could have been models for Max Sennett's Keystone Kops of the 1920s. Leo Martinez leads this band of mustachioed bumblers with hilarious authoritative awkwardness.
Frechette's isn't the only golden voice in the company. Her eight sisters exhibit splendid talent in conveying maidenly virtues, while Timmons' buccaneers hit the stage running in a show of ensemble comic excellence.
Pianist and musical director Bill Wolfe heads a three-piece combo (James Yoshizawa on drums and Amy Hwang on violin) that keeps the show's motor continuously running. They're even brought onstage for a curtain call, a commendable gesture.
"The Pirates of Penzance" opened Wednesday night and plays through Sunday only, so don't miss this superbly staged revival of this oldie but, still, a goodie.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
What: "The Pirates of Penzance"
Where: Orange Coast College Drama Lab Theater, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa
When: Closing performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Cost: $8 to $12 in advance, $10 to $15 at the door
Call: (714) 432-5880