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Swashbuckle your way to ‘Pirates of Penzance’

  • Written by Shannon Michael, Features Writer

5thAve Pirates 03 credit Tracy MartinPhoto byTracy Martin. Brandon O’Neill as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance at The 5th Avenue Theatre.The 5th Avenue Theatre was packed last Thursday night for the opening of Gilbert & Sullivan’s "Pirates of Penzance." The show, which ran preview performances beginning July 11, will run through August 4.

It is well worth the effort to see this musical before it leaves Seattle.

"The Pirates of Penzance" first debuted in 1879 at New York City’s 5th Avenue Theatre.

"We were very excited when we discovered that tidbit of information," David Armstrong, executive producer and artistic director for Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, told the opening night audience.

Director and choreographer James Rocco cleverly gives the classic musical a Pacific Northwest twist by setting the story along the coastline of British Columbia.

The musical tells the hilarious story of Frederic, an apprenticed pirate who finally earns his freedom on his 21st birthday, and the challenges he faces coupled with the new love he discovers along the way.

The star-studded cast, comprised of Brandon O’Neill as the Pirate King, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Frederic, Anne Eisendrath as Mabel, Anne Allgood as Ruth, along with David Pichette taking charge as Major-General Stanley, fills the evening with superb performances.

But, it is Rocco’s impeccable use of physical comedy in the choreography employed by all cast members that makes the show a visual delight.

Too many times, the ensemble in a show is just background noise, but not in "The Pirates of Penzance." Rocco’s use of the ensemble to fill out the star characters’ performances is brilliantly done.

Also well done is the casting. The pirates are all roguishly handsome, the maidens are virtuously beautiful, and the Major-General wonderfully buffoonish.

The musical, with several of its songs delivered at a mind-boggling fast pace, also features exceptional voices.

Annie Eisendrath, as Mabel, hits high notes that would make Mariah Carey nod in appreciation. Anne Allgood, a Broadway veteran, employs a rich voice with perfect comic timing. 

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, who starred opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury in Broadway’s A Little Night Music in 2009, makes his Seattle debut and quickly shows he has a bright future on stage.

It is also clear that the behind the scenes work done to create visually appealing costumes, by costume designer Christine Tschirgi, and set and lighting design by Tom Sturge, and the orchestra’s performance, entertainingly conducted by Joel Fram, fill in the pieces to make the show an all-around success.

"The Pirates of Penzance" runs through August 4 with nightly performances beginning at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, and matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tickets, starting at $29, may be purchased online at www.5thavenue.org, by phone at (206) 625-1900, or at the box office located at 1308 5th Avenue in Seattle.

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