Monday, March 13, 2006

"Pirates of Penzance" by Candlelight

"It was the very model of a modern major musicale,
With patter songs and lots of words all meant to confuse you all,
With comic choreography,
And costumes bright for all to see,
It was the very model of a modern major musical."

...this Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta is only 127 years old! Yes, we went to the Sunday Brunch Performance at the Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont. We used to live just half a mile away and it was very easy to become "regulars" at this regional live theater. It has been there now for more than twenty years and I can see major improvements over the years.

I can remember when Ben Bollinger's Company took over the old high school gymnasium there at Griswold's Old School House. It followed in the footsteps of the ill-fated Claremont Playhouse. Malcolm had attempted to have a "quasi-dinner theater" with folks getting a special deal to eat at Griswold's and then come over for a play he directed. I had just finished two successful seasons/summers of the directing the "Young Actors' Workshop" there. We had classes for all ages from K-12 in mime and stagecrafts and full blown musicals. We even gave Ms. Allen her first venue for "Your A Good Man, Charlie Brown". She went on to produce the "Karosel Kids" with Malcolm which became a very successful Children's Theater Group.(still running)
I did some performing too; nothing of note ie. "Virgil" in "Bus Stop" and "Adam" in a summer production. It was then I thought it best to get back to my "classroom productions".

The initial productions from Candlelight were quite quaint as I remember. It was a family affair with everyone pitching in. It mainly used local talent and was a good place for many to begin and put on their "credits". My main criticism at the time was the "canned music" or pre-recorded tracts of accompaniment that the "actors" had to "keep up with". It just didn't seem like a "real" musical with "live" musicians. That is still the same, but now they have tiny "face microphones" that hook on to their ears or are taped to their cheek. There is a tendency now to try to "sing over" or "sing louder" than the accompanying full band or orchestra. This time I was sitting close enough, front and center (3 feet from the edge of the apron) and I could see and hear their full voice, operatic arias. (and the drips of sweat too)

The "leads" in "Pirates" had beautiful solo voices and they really belted out their numbers. "I Am a Pirate King" was glorious and yet had that bombastically comic touch with lots of "sight gags". My favorite, "I Am the Very Model..." was quintesential English upperclass snobery and so precise. There were a couple of romantic ballads which were so typical of the period, full voice and right in each other's faces.

The choreography was clean and just right for the tightness of the stage. There were pratt falls and mock fights galore. The policemen had that "Keystone Kop" gait and were a great contrast to the sweet pattering steps of the "maidens" (General's Wards) There were lots of "group moves" like in "group hugs". Lots of attention to detail and authenticity in the costumes.

And of course, what would Gilbert and Sullivan be without your puns and word-play? The protagonist "Frederick" was sent to apprentice for "pirates" not "pilots" because his nurse "Ruth" had been "hard of hearing". Later, "orphan" and "often" are confused comedically. The "soft-hearted" pirates would never attack or hurt "orphans" which most of them least not very often.

The whole experience was great fun and I would highly recommend it. The candle-abra (sconces) along the walls are kept burning throughout,(smell of smoke included) but the oil-wick lamps at the tables are snuffed before the curtain's rise. The wait service was a bit slow and the dishes were not cleared before the intermission desserts. I had a scrumptious bread pudding with Jack Daniel's sauce. The pre-show dinner music was superb. Michael Ryan, a local guitarist, so impressed with his classical and flamenco numbers. He too has come a long way from when we first heard him and his small combo at the local eateries in town. He has a website: and a show "Michael Ryan and Friends" coming up April 2nd at Gardiner Spring Auditorium in Ontario; ought to be good. We need to continue to support our local, live theaters, They are almost becoming "extinct" I think. Bob


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