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Pirates beautiful singing mired in faulty acting, production

Pirates of Penzance
MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Players.
Stage direction by Michele M. McVeigh.
Music direction by Todd Douglas Neal.
Starring Richard Damaso '95,
and Evelyn Smith '94.
La Sala de Puerto Rico.
Nov. 4, 5, and 6 at 8 p.m.
Nov. 6 at 2 p.m.

By Joshua M. Andresen
Associate Arts Editor

The MIT Gilbert and Sullivan players took the stage last Friday in Pirates of Penzance with much enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the level of enthusiasm failed to redeem the substandard performance of the G&S players in their performance -- which was brilliantly sung, but poorly acted.

Pirates of Penzance relates the story of Frederic (Richard Damaso '95), a pirate apprentice to the somewhat feeble Pirates of Penzance, and his mishaps as he tries to free himself from the pirating profession. Along the way, he falls in love with the lovely Mabel Stanley (Evelyn Smith '94) and meets her father, the Major General Stanley (Peter Stark). General mayhem ensues often as well as the pirates fight with various parties, all set to the lyrics of W.S. Gilbert and the wonderful music of Arthur Sullivan.

The most striking aspect of the performance of the G&S players was the vocal talent of the cast. The singing was truly incredible. Golden-throated Damaso was particularly brilliant in the lead role, singing with clarity and emotion. He balanced the pit orchestra wonderfully when accompanied, but sounded even better in the numbers where he sang a capella. He displayed marvelous versatility with Frederic's lines, singing very consistently throughout.

Smith also sang very beautifully in the leading lady role. Though her fair voice was frequently overpowered by the pit orchestra, she sang her very challenging part with ease, belting out her stratospheric lines with reckless abandon that was pure magic. Damaso and Smith sang very well together in their numerous duets, which were the highlights of the performance.

The supporting roles were also very nicely sung. The leading pirates (John A. Wilson as the Pirate King and David C. Jedlinsky '89 as his lieutenant) had marvelous baritone voices that fit their parts perfectly. Julie-Marie Anderson sang the part of Ruth very well, except that her over-zealous accent made her lyrics frequently unintelligible. Finally, the superb singing of the chorus made the vocal aspects of the performance almost perfect.

The one exception to the near-perfect singing was the performance of Peter Stark as Major General Stanley. Though his voice was quite fine, he struggled with the admittedly challenging number "I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General." In addition to getting toungue-tied several times plowing through the lyrics to his upbeat and amusing introduction, he rushed the fast sections, singing ahead of the pit orchestra. The brilliantly funny lyrics here do not get their full due.

Stark's vocal stumbling is in a way ironic, as he was the only member of the cast who could act convincingly. He did a marvelous job in the acting role of the eccentric Major General Stanley, delighting with overemphasis and exaggeration in his expressions, that are only too appropriate. Damaso and Smith adequately acted the leading roles, though much more could have been done with their parts. Wilson's Pirate King moved stiffly and though his mouth smiled or frowned appropriately, the rest of his face remained wooden. The acting in the supporting roles was laughable, if not pitiful.

It was the minor aspects of the performance that really brought it down. The pit orchestra (directed by Todd Douglas Neal) played with wonderful intonation (with some exceptions in the winds at times), but as a group they played without verve. This may be due to the fact that there were parts missing, but the orchestra managed to take much of the emotion out of Sullivan's music.

Joan A. Shear's choreography was also very uninspired. At times it did not follow the music well at all, seeming entirely separate when it should be one with the music. In one number, the cast was jumping and kicking through an upbeat section, but then remained jumping through the sustained chord at the end and all the way to the end of the piece, which simply looked ridiculous.

Although the singing was heavenly, the G&S players' performance of Pirates of Penzance was bogged down by faulty acting and a faulty overall production. Fans of Gilbert and Sullivan will enjoy the performance, but it was not very well done on the whole.