Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Stage

Review: Freefall's futuristic 'Pirates of Penzance' will steal your heart

ST. PETERSBURG — Good theater stretches the mind, makes us think on eternal delights and dilemmas in new ways. One of the hallmarks of Freefall Theatre, which is closing its season with Pirates of Penzance, is that it often prompts those experiences by repurposing tried and true works.

The latest example, Freefall artistic director Eric Davis' adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, is one of the most striking in a while. The concept alone feels like a giant leap for mankind, an exquisite mashup of a 19th century operetta with Star Trek culture, with 1960s go-go dancers thrown in. This musical changes all previous impressions of everything it touches, from the perfect iambic librettos of A.S. Gilbert to Star Wars and Star Trek irreverently mangled together. The result is silly and spectacular and fun.

The basics are all there, as each scene moves fluidly into the next. The adaptation follows the original operetta's premise. By his father's decree, young Frederic (Nick Lerew) was to be placed in apprenticeship as a ship's pilot until his 21st birthday. But his nursemaid (Sara DelBeato) misunderstood, entrusting Frederic to a band of pirates. The story opens hours from Frederic's release, at which point as a gentleman he will be duty bound to exterminate all pirates, including these soft-hearted souls who raised him.

A two-tier set frames the action on a pirate spaceship or a "Tremorden space station," but clever lighting (Ryan Finzelber) mimics the 1970s disco scene for selected numbers. Mabel, Frederic's love interest, is the daughter of Major Gen. Stanley, who for reasons too complicated to go into here is captured by the pirates. Kaylin Seckel dazzles in the role with some top-tier singing, as does Hayden Milanes as the Pirate King.

This production features almost too many inventive touches to list. Some of the most forceful include the layering of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody on top of the major general's song, the appearance of C-3PO (Will Garrabrant) and R2-D2 as the timid police dispatched to bring the pirates to justice, and a cameo by Queen Victoria I won't spoil with a description.

Touches in the set are familiar to fans already spoiled by previous Freefall productions. I am referring to the multiple video screens in the background designed by Davis, onto which galaxies pass by as seen through the portal of a spaceship. The most emphatic change, though, is surely the musical arrangement by Michael Raabe, who leads an on-stage, four-piece band. Thanks to him, most of the music beamed aboard comes from the rock genre.

There are some weak spots. An early duet by Hannah Benitez as Kate and Kelly Pekar as Edith, both of whom are otherwise stellar, is a little hard to understand. Glenn Gover's Major Gen. Stanley comes across as a bit workmanlike. It is possible to imagine that character played with more vitality.

The dimensions of the musical blend seamlessly, bringing the timeless humor of the operetta alive and making all sorts of unlikely situations entirely believable. The skill level of the performers is high and work to serve the story. The story's treatment and dozens of playful twists combine for the kind of experience that has not happened before but will again, at least until the end of the run.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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