Wednesday, 8 January 2003

Pirates of Penzance, Simon Gallaher & EssGee, Jan 8, 2003

Pirates of Penzance  by Gilbert  and Sullivan
by Simon Gallaher  and EssGee Entertainment
 Melbourne Concert Hall, January 8 to 14, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Simon Gallaher's company, EssGee Entertainment has a huge hit on its hands with this production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance.

2003 marks the 20th anniversary of the production featuring John English  and Gallaher. It feels like a private party to which we were invited. The enormous crowd in the Concert Hall leapt to its feet to applaud this mischievous and modern interpretation of the musical.

English reprises his role as the Pirate King.  He plays him as a bumbling but lovably incompetent buccaneer. English is a slapstick king with a big rusty voice and oodles of personality.

The highlight is the chorus of With Cat-like Tread.  English and his pirates pound out this hearty song, hurling themselves across the stage, hyping the audience until they scream for three encores.

The show is deftly directed by Craig Schaefer.  Tightly staged scenes and songs are interspersed with loose, ad libbed sections of dialogue that have the crowd roaring. English picks up on any twitch or cough in the audience and makes a meal of it.

There is plenty of swordplay and fall down comedy. The running gag is English grabbing his sword by the blade.

Gallaher's bright tenor is as good as ever. He plays Frederic  the young pirate whose loyalties are split between his new-found love, Mabel  (Carmell Parente) and his pirate mates. Parente's pretty soprano does justice to Mabel's signature tune, Poor Wandering One.

The chorus of pirates provides a powerful all-singing, all-dancing support to the production. They double as the hilariously cowardly policemen. Choreography by Tony Bartuccio  is slick, jazzy and funny, the orchestra are superb and Musical Director, Kevin Hocking, is a constant cheeky presence in the pit.

As the Sergeant of Police,  David Gould's  resonant bass, huge physique and mobile clown's face give the role pizzazz.

The pirates seek wives and all want one of the daughters of Major-General Stanley.  Gerry Connelly,  as Stanley, incorporates his mammoth skill in impersonation. This production gives him licence to strut his stuff. He switches at will into Queen Elizabeth, Bjelke-Petersen  Thatcher  and Paul Keating.  The crowd goes wild at his clever wordplay and uncannily accurate characters.

Another leap away from the original G and S script is Stanley three daughters. The Absolutely Fabulettes  (Andi Gallaher, Diana Holt, Marissa Denyer) are a wickedly 60's trio sporting bee-hives, pop music voices and plenty of spunk.

Pirates is perfect summer fare.

By Kate Herbert

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