If I could charter a
bus and offer you transportation to Louisville over the next few days to
see a production at Actors Theatre, I'd happily do so. I made the drive
to see a Sunday matinee of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance,
"reimagined by The Hypocrites." This zany group of theater artists from
Chicago have found contemporary ways to inject new energy into
traditional works from Shakespeare to Golden Age musicals. And that's
what they've done with Pirates, a show that was a silly musical hit in the 1880s on both sides of the Atlantic.
fact, what this energetic cast of 10 does with the show is restore its
comic brilliance in a way that's wholly suited to the 21st century but
in keeping with the original. The story of soft-hearted pirates, a
soft-headed major-general and his melodic daughters and a crew of
incompetent cops remains intact and is inherently funny. But The
Hypocrites have pushed it to a contemporary level.
Actors Theatre's arena-styled Bingham Theatre, audiences were
immediately immersed in a beach party on the central stage.
were bouncing everywhere; the ushers were wearing floral shirts. The
performers, also musicians, were leading a folksy singalong, tunes like
the Lumineers' "Ho Hey" and Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the
Schoolyard." It was downright festive, and audience members who had
seating onstage (many with kids) joined right in with the fun.
showtime arrived, a few ground rules were laid out by actress Christine
Stulik, who played both the matronly awkward Ruth and the sweet ingenue
Mabel. She asked those onstage to follow any requests made by the stage
managers, dressed as Victorian lifeguards, so that actors would have
clear paths to move to their required locations. She also mentioned that
the show would be one hour, 20 minutes, with a one-minute intermission.
(That's what really happened: a quick break, with actors sipping
bottled water, audience members running up the steps to an in-theater
bar, stretching and so on.)
The performance follows Pirates' amusing tale of the virtuous young Fredric, who is a "Slave of Duty" (we were regularly reminded by the word DUTY,
spelled out in giant red letters at the top of one audience section).
The performers executed their roles in exaggerated fashion, squeezing
humor out of every moment. They also played an astonishing array of
musical instruments: guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, flute, clarinet,
accordion, squeezebox and other esoteric items such as a toy piano, a
kiddie xylophone and a saw(!). They were all accomplished singers, too,
and just about everyone played multiple roles — including sweet young
ladies who doubled as comically mustachioed police officers.
was a joyous, festive hoot from start to finish, a wonderful tonic for a
bitterly cold winter. My only regret is that I'm late to the party: The
production of Pirates of Penzance wraps up on Saturday. If you have the time to drive down I-71 and can score a ticket (Actors Theatre box office: 502-584-1205), you'll feel like you took a mini-vacation.