Hale Breaks Loose

I admit that I ended up more interested in the audience that came to see The Pirates of Penzance than I was in the show itself. That's not because there's nothing to like about this latest Hale Centre Theatre production, which contains some beautiful singing and several nice performances. But you have to understand that Hale Center offers theater in the round, which means that, no matter where you sit, you're facing a huge chunk of audience -- because this place seems always to be full, even when it's cramming a great big 19th-century Gilbert and Sullivan light opera onto its little bitty stage.

Which is what it's done, more or less successfully, with Pirates of Penzance. Nicolle Alexandre, a magnificent soprano, is charming as Mabel. Joseph Kremmer is a dashing Pirate King, masterfully puffed up and full of comic hot air. And Jeffrey David Walker's fine voice makes up for his sometimes lackluster stage presence as Fredric.

But I was distracted by the people sitting across the room from me. Was that guy over there really wearing a dashiki? Was it possible that everyone in the second row had fallen asleep? That lady in the back row -- was that Acquanetta?

The maidens fill the stage nicely and provide comely companionship to the gaggle of strictly teenaged pirates, every last one of whom sports a headset microphone, the cord visibly Scotch-taped to his neck. The show works best when this often-wobbly chorus is backstage and the principals are left to sing and play hambone. Actor-baritone Kremmer is a Pepsodent pirate, all flashing teeth and booming voice, his every gesture inflated for maximum comic appeal. The top of Act Two belongs to him, until he's happily upstaged by Alexandre's solo on "O Dry the Glistening Tear."

Pirates of Penzance is a masterpiece of satire, and director Ben Tyler has some fun with Gilbert and Sullivan's already spoofy book, adding bits of business about the big, obviously Styrofoam rocks on stage, a sing-along set change (set to "I'm a Little Teapot"!), and various zany asides to the audience. Theater in the round requires a great deal of staging-in-the-round, and Tyler is up for the challenge, sending his players into the uppermost reaches of the stadium seating, where they clown and joust in the aisles. Back on stage, Tyler keeps his cast spinning, so that we all get a look at their fronts before they turn to show them to another part of the house.

Cyndee Smith's costume designs are straight out of Grandma's attic: gowns made from bed sheets, bonnets blooming with silk flowers, and -- horrors! -- spray-painted shoes. No matter -- I was preoccupied with the choreographer, who was admiring his work from the fourth row. And was that David Ira Goldstein sitting behind him? Did that lady near the aisle realize everyone on this side of the house could see her eating Funyuns? And who comes to the theater in a turban? And . . .

E-mail [email protected]

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela