Correction to This Article
In some Feb. 29 editions, a Style review of the Washington Savoyards' "Pirates of Penzance" misspelled the last name of musical satirist Tom Lehrer.
Music

Ahoy! Washington Savoyards' Ship Comes In With 'Penzance'

Adam Juran as the Pirate King and Diana Cantrelle as Ruth in Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance." What the production lacks in polish it makes up for in energy.
Adam Juran as the Pirate King and Diana Cantrelle as Ruth in Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance." What the production lacks in polish it makes up for in energy. (By Christopher Mueller)
By Robert Battey
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, February 29, 2008

The Washington Savoyards have opened an entertaining production of Gilbert & Sullivan's masterly "Pirates of Penzance" at the company's new home in the Atlas Performing Arts Center. "Pirates" has always been a favorite of American audiences; its frenetic tapestry of cultural parody has in turn lent itself to sly references in "The Simpsons," Tom Lehrer, the Muppets and Animaniacs. Some even hear its droll elocutions ("no Englishman unmoved that statement hears") in the mouth of Yoda in "Star Wars."

The Savoyards are a heterogeneous company that draws its singers and musicians from the region's large pool of amateurs, semi-professionals and Catholic University students. The new hall is intimate, with so-so acoustics and a fairly shallow stage, but the productions are vibrant and enjoyable.

The musical level in this production is generally quite high. The cast is of fairly even quality -- no standouts and no duds -- and the choral singing excellent (particularly in the Act 1 finale). Diction, so crucial in G&S, was admirable, although most of the cast struggled at times in their lower registers. There is some impressive choreography, the performers making up in energy what they lack in precision. It would be good if everyone agreed whether they were going to use British accents or not, and the pirates' stage business was often too corny, at times suggesting a TV sitcom aimed at children. A pre-curtain "Good morning!" number detracted rather than added.

But the pleasures of the production were many. The company rightly puts emphasis on its detailed ensemble work, and the sets and costumes were amusing and imaginative. Conductor N. Thomas Pedersen set nicely flowing tempos and maintained good balances, and added another layer of affectionate parody by using a harpsichord in the recitatives.

Gilbert's clever and apparently effortless verse is a timeless marvel, and Sullivan's deft, perfectly drawn accompaniments limn the comedy and melodrama hand-in-glove. Washington Savoyards' devotion and specialization in this repertoire have enriched the musical life of the region immensely; long may they wave.

The Pirates of Penzance, by Gilbert & Sullivan. Directed by Carrie Klewin; choreography, Pauline Grossman. Through March 9 at Atlas Performing Arts Center; http://www.savoyards.org.


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