The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools.
When I walked into the lobby of Quaker Valley, I was instantly overwhelmed with the excitement as people waited anxiously for the house to open. The pirate theme was seen right away with a merchandise stand selling eye patches, flags and other sorts of memorabilia from the show.
Now, when I first discovered that “Pirates of Penzance” was a comedy/opera I was confused. Then curious. Then intrigued. How on earth were they going to pull off a comedic opera about pirates? Though it sounds like madness, it somehow managed to be the most unique and creative musical I have ever seen. Strange? Yes, it was very strange. Be that as it may, this theatrical musical was very well done and hilarious.
The show itself is about a pirate/ex-pirate/pirate/ex-pirate named Frederic, played by Patrick Hughes, who is an accidental apprentice to the Pirate King, thanks to his guardian Ruth, played by Mia Fox. The Pirates of Penzance turn out to be cowards, never fighting anyone and sworn to the oath that they will never kill an orphan, being orphans themselves. Frederic is told that on his twenty-first birthday he may leave his apprenticeshib to live on his own.
On that very day, he does just that and falls in love with Mabel, the eldest of many daughters to Major General Stanley. The pirates come looking for Frederic and express to the General their wishes to marry all of his daughters, to which he says no. The pirates then advance and try to fight the General, who makes a false claim that he’s an orphan. Much to their dismay, they must follow their most sacred rule, and they back off. The Major General does not approve of his daughter marrying any pirate, so it’s a good thing Frederic isn’t one anymore, right?
Wrong. It is discovered that Frederic was very conveniently born on February 29 of a leap year, what a most ingenious paradox! (Each ridiculous plot twist was presented in such a way as to seem perfectly reasonable.) This causes complications because the apprenticeship Frederic supposedly had completed was to last until his 21st birthDAY, which won’t come until he’s 84. Bound to duty, Frederic returns to the pirates. Mabel is devastated but for some reason agrees to wait for him.
In the meantime, the pirates discover that the Major General lied about being an orphan and they declare revenge. They raid the General’s castle, only to be stopped by the police. However, since the pirates never really killed anyone, they have nothing to be punished for. The General then comes to a realization that the pirates are not too bad, and never did anything wrong, and agrees to let them pursue his daughters. After all of that insanity, they somehow all live happily ever after.
I really adored this musical. It had a little bit of everything in it. Bad jokes, love interests, sword fights, all the things you normally would expect to not work together, worked together. The costumes were great, and the dancing was phenomenal. There was such a well-rounded, talented cast.
Peter Heres, the Pirate King, gave a show stopping performance. He did a great job playing the comedic pirate that is not cautious with his sword...at all. Katie Manuel, who played Mabel, was a standout vocalist. Her elegant voice made opera sound effortless. Both Heres and Manuel embraced their roles and made their characters memorable.
The stage and set itself were on a slant tilted toward the audience. This made it feel like we were on the Pirate ship with them. I was impressed with all of the activity the cast did while standing on the slanted part of the stage.
The choreography was what stood out the most to me, especially in the police officers dance scene. The choreographer did an amazing job incorporating modern dancing into the clumsy police officers’ dance while still staying in sync. My hat goes off to her for arranging great dances on such a complicated stage.
If you have never seen this show, I would suggest that you do, and bring a couple of friends. The cheesy jokes and absurd plot will surely have you leaving with a smile on your face.
Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson. For more high school musicals coverage, go to http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/theater-dance/ and scroll down.