EmptyNew York State Theater, Lincoln Center, New York
There's as much visual as lyrical wit on display in the New York City Opera's inventive production of Gilbert and Sullivan's classic and oft-performed "The Pirates of Penzance." This whimsically staged rendition, featuring Broadway stars Marc Kudisch as the rakish Pirate King and Marc Jacoby as Maj. Gen. Stanley, is a particularly effective introduction to the work for younger audiences.
Director Lillian Groag (repeating her chores from the production's previous incarnation at the Glimmerglass Opera) and set designer John Conklin collaborate to provide numerous Monty Python-style visual gags in the staging. These include appearances by the Titanic, being pursued by an iceberg; Queen Victoria, helpfully serving tea; stagehands wearing T-shirts with the logo "D'Oyle Carte"; Lewis Carroll's Alice, wearing a black eye patch; and so on.
Fortunately, the sharp wit of Gilbert's libretto also comes through loud and clear thanks to the efforts of the terrific cast. Kudisch, recently on Broadway in the revival of "The Apple Tree," is a marvelously robust and strong-voiced Pirate King. Jacoby, who most recently appeared as the obsessed Judge Turpin in "Sweeney Todd," performs the famous patter song in hilariously rapid-fire fashion. Sarah Jane McMahon, the operatic ringer of the bunch, not only sings beautifully as Mabel but athletically performs a series of cartwheels to boot; Matt Morgan is charming as the goodhearted Frederic; and Kevin Burdette garners consistent laughs with his sergeant of police.
At times, the sustained jokiness threatens to overwhelm the more delicate aspects of the operetta, and the production seems rather lost in the vast expanse of Lincoln Center's State Theater. But the sheer exuberance on display, from the performers and the audience, dispels any quibbles.