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The Pirates Of Penzance: Broadway version

Swashbuckling update of the Gilbert & Sullivan classic for a modern audience

May 5, 2011

Oxford Playhouse, 4-7 May 2011

This is a thoroughly rehearsed and slick show. Vibrant, noisy and chaotic, several people were often on stage at once, nimbly weaving among each other. Credit goes to the choreographer and cast for managing to avoid collisions, let alone flow around the stage with such vitality.

This plurality of people becomes a little tiresome to the ears though. Too many 'big numbers' repetitively bashed out the same motifs with accompaniment that bordered on 'oom-pah'.

It's something of a shame as there were some pretty arias and soulful moments, but they were outnumbered by low-aiming comedy and riotous ensemble pieces. Still, we can blame Gilbert and Sullivan for that, or perhaps those who adapted the operetta for Broadway, the version employed here.

Special mention however should be made of Florence Vincent who played love interest Mabel. Her singing was beautifully clear and the musical heart of the evening.

People come for the big comedy though, and that was ably maintained, especially by Pirate King Joe Harrison who brings great energy, comic timing and perhaps a little Johnny Depp to his role, and also by bendy music-hall policeman Olly Brassell, destined for a career in the Ministry of Silly Walks.

Some clever interplay with the orchestra made for amusement, though where the comedy didn't work for me I think I must again blame the composers, an example being the amount of emphasis given to the hilarity of getting singers to pronounce words really fast. This is indeed skilful but I'd rather it was left to Busta Rhymes so I could hear something more melodic.

That said, it was a vigorous, ably sung, well-rounded show. The one thing it did lack was star quality. Often we see performers with a commanding, ineffable sense of charisma and just one of those would have lifted this production above its few foibles.
I couldn't work out what I enjoyed more, the beautifully timed comedy of Joe Harrison as The Pirate King or the heartwarming duets between Tom Wolstenholme and Flo Vincent as Frederic and Mabel both of whom had amazing vocals both on opening night and the final performance. I laughed out loud more than I have in a while and I must commend Olly Brassell and his band of Police for part of that. It takes a lot of skill for a person used to doing musical theatre to then have to dance out of time.

The modern twists added a lot to the performance, especially the banter between the Pirate King and the Major General (Billy Godfrey) over the speed of the Major General's song. All in all an excellent group dynamic with large group numbers smoothly carying the show, I couldn't believe they were an amateur group.
Congratulations to the cast and production team of OYMT for bringing us such an amazing performance of this well loved show. All the leads brought their own 'star quality' to each role. In fact with such a young cast, aged 15-19 and all amateurs, OYMT manage to produce an incredibly high standard and each member of the cast is obviously enjoying every minute, with laughs in all the right places and in some unexpected places too.

The singing is just sheer excellence, from the soloists to the wonderful 4 part harmony of the united cast. Particularly impressive was how small the cast is for an amateur production, allowing each member all the room they need for the delightful choreography - this is all thanks to the Director, MD and choreographer.

Well done for also for bringing G & S to a new and wider audience. A thoroughly good night out: may our old fashioned British music and humour live on.
Well Done to all involved.
I took my 5 year old son and 12 year old daughter. We had a fantastic time - all the cast were truly brilliant.
I have spent all day today running the risk of being decapitated by my son, with his toy sword , singing,' with cat like tread'....
What a first night performance this was! Thank goodness we have tickets for another evening. This was entertainment at its best - who would have guessed that it was an amateur production? It's quite clear that several of the performers will be seen in the future in professional productions. Fantastic to see such a wide age range working so well together and supporting each other. Congratulations to all concerned - you must all feel very proud. Not to be missed!!
A rollicking band of pirates take to the New Theatre Oxford this week, in a colourful production by the Oxford Operatic Society. The age range of the cast is an amazing: sixty six years between desperate lovelorn Mabel played by sweet seventeen year old Frankie Williams and the deliciously pompous Major General played by eighty three year old Ronald Hewitt. This “Broadway Version” is spiced up by a lively band and traditionalists will be impressed by the original Doyle Carte scenery. At the dress rehearsal they looked lively and obviously enjoying taking to the stage, the audiences this week will be delighted.
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