"The Pirates of Penzance" might strike viewers as more Walt Disney than Gilbert and Sullivan in the Camarillo Community Theater's current production of the venerable work. This comic opera puts the emphasis on the comedy, and these buccaneers are a cross of "Peter Pan," Robert Newton's hammy Long John Silver in "Treasure Island," and the pillaging crew in the Disneyland ride "Pirates of the Caribbean."
There couldn't be a more inviting attraction to Gilbert and Sullivan: Everybody, even devout Savoyards, should find the show to be a couple of hours' worth of silly, slapstick fun, with plenty of pretty girls, a couple of handsome leading men, and a number of good tunes.
And, despite the low-budget sets in a theater that's a vintage high school auditorium on the grounds of a community airfield, the comic acting is well above average and the music is remarkably well-performed.
As a Yankee promoter is said to have told the manager of a perhaps even more threadbare production, "Don't worry how it looks, son--they don't go out whistling the scenery."
The producers have generously provided a synopsis at the beginning of the program, but the story's simplicity itself. Strapping youth Frederic is on the verge of leaving the band of pirates to whom he has been indentured since his nurse, Ruth, misunderstood orders to apprentice him to a ship's pilot. When he sees young girls for the first time (having been at sea for quite a while), Frederic immediately falls in love with Mabel, one of Maj. Gen. Stanley's dozen beautiful daughters.
But, wait! Having been born on the 29th of February, Frederic hasn't celebrated his 21st birthday (the qualification for his release from his bonds to the pirates). In leap years he is only 5 years old.
While general audiences might miss much of Gilbert and Sullivan's parody of Victorian convention, everybody can understand most of what's going on; the confusions of the story line indicate the level of much of the show's humor.
Director Michael Voll and the company take their fun seriously. This bunch has experience with "Pirates" on a low budget--several of those involved here worked on a 1989 production at the Encore Dinner Theater in Ventura. A number of the present cast and crew members have worked in other Gilbert and Sullivan productions, most notably Lloyd Allen, here Maj. Gen. Stanley, whose resume includes 12 of the duo's 14 operettas.
Mark Andrew Reyes and Paul Formanek cut dashing figures as the Pirate King and Frederic, respectively; soprano Ronda Borgwardt's Mabel is a bit of a priss, adding to the fun. Lloyd Allen and John Frisbey as the major general and sergeant of police represent the Crown much as Gilbert and Sullivan intended.
The singing throughout is quite good, with many of the choral passages--"Hail Poetry" for instance--downright thrilling. Kevin Parcher and Art Gibson supply a fine musical backing that uses lots of synthesizers to good (if sometimes overbearingly loud) effect, and Margaret Miche is credited with much of the choreography. Costume design isn't credited (costume construction is, to Karen Moffatt), but all concerned did their work admirably.
In all, this production is the very model of Gilbert and Sullivan community-theater style, and well worth a trip to the Camarillo Airport.
* WHERE AND WHEN
"The Pirates of Penzance" plays Friday and Saturday nights at 8 and Sundays at 7:30 through March 2 at the Camarillo Airport Theater, Skyway Drive on the Camarillo Airport grounds. Tickets are $9.50; $7.50 for seniors, children, students with student activity cards, and active military with identification. For reservations, directions to the theater or further information, call (805) 388-5716 or (805) 641-0725.