Hilarious choreography makes for entertaining 'Pirates'

In terms of stage action, Anchorage Opera's production of "The Pirates of Penzance" is the best I've ever seen. The musical satire always tends toward slapstick, but director Bill Fabris has drilled the cast to pull it off with respectable precision, never lagging nor becoming so broad as to turn into sight gags for their own sake.

The soloists and choristers are in constant synchronized motion, often quite athletic. In "With Cat-Like Tread" the pirates stamped by leaping into the air with both feet at once — while singing. In the first act ensemble, "How Beautifully Blue the Sky" one of the women choristers rapidly traversed the stage a couple of times on her knees, which had to be painful.

But it was also comic, in that the kneeling singer was in a line of otherwise standing women. Similarly, at one point in the second act, the cast suddenly donned white top hats and spoofed the choreography in "A Chorus Line." The constables were the very model of Keystone Koppery, right down to Chalinesque waddles. Such clever bits, with the notoriously silly lyrics and buoyant music, kept the audience smiling and laughing throughout the show.

Even before the show started, designer Cleo Pettitt's cartoonish curtain design set a merry tone. Some teenagers entering the Discovery Theatre behind me broke into appreciative chuckles when they saw it.

The main soloist — Michael Scarcelle as the Pirate King, Benjamin Robinson as Frederic, Vanessa Ballam as Mable, Nancy Caudill as Ruth, William Garry as Major-General Stanley and Kyle Gantz as the Sergeant — delivered their own antic mugging and hilarious schtick. Their voices, however, were the Achilles heel of the show. I've heard some of these people do better outside Gilbert and Sullivan. While diction and intonation were on target, they often felt underpowered from my listening post on the far side of the fourth row from the stage.

The exception was Ballam, who filled the hall with a very good soprano, even tossing in a few coloratura effects.

Perhaps it was an opening night adjustment waiting to be made. Garry's "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General," while funny, seemed tentative and weak, misplaced for his range. But his Act II "Sighing Softly to the River" voice was firm and full and melodious.


Or perhaps I just had a bad seat. Some more centrally located parties said they found the vocal balance excellent.

The chorus, prepared by Mari Hahn, had no such problems. They sounded robust and clear from start to finish. Likewise the orchestra, led by ever-dependable Kelly Kuo, kept a crisp edge on their playing to the end. In fact I'd go again just to hear the instruments.

But that won't happen. The rest of the run is sold out. And those lucky enough to hold tickets can be confident that they'll be getting their money's worth.