Woes of Maine winter no match against ‘Pirates’

Posted Feb. 25, 2009, at 7:35 p.m.

Surviving a Maine winter requires a sense of humor. A high dose of silly mixed with music sometimes is the only way to slog through the snow and cold and keep your wits about you.

There is, however, a tried-and-true medicine for what some have christened “the winter blahs.” It’s not a trip to the tropics or a sojourn south of the Mason-Dixon line.

The production of “The Pirates of Penzance,” or “The Slave of Duty,” at The Grand this weekend in Ellsworth is the perfect antidote to icicles and snowbanks. The operetta, staged by the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Hancock County, captures all the silly madness the English duo ever mustered and is a wonderful way to wile away a winter afternoon or evening.

W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan premiered the show in New York City in 1879 on the heels of their 1878 London success “H.M.S. Pinafore.” It was the only one of their many operettas that opened in the United States.

They had hoped that by opening the production on this side of the pond, they would avoid having the material pirated as “Pinafore” had been. The copyright of their material in Great Britain was not recognized under American law.

During the opening of the more aptly named “The Slave of Duty,” a group of pirates party on the coast of Cornwall at Penzance, a sleepy seaside resort. There they meet a bevy of beautiful young women, all the daughters of Major General Stanley. Love and pandemonium a la the Keystone Kops ensue before the plot twists are unraveled and true love conquers all.

Many of the cast members are veterans of G&S productions — and it shows. The pace never falters despite the large cast and the silliness rarely abates. Under the artistic direction of Dede Johnson and musical direction of Fredric Goldrich, the choral work is especially fine.

Roland Dube is delightful as the Pirate King. He knows the limits of the class satire G&S created. He also respects the material enough not to push it over the edge into parody. His Pirate King stops short of becoming a Monty Python sketch.

As Frederic, the young handsome “temporary” pirate, Sam Worden is a pitch perfect romantic lead. He convincingly captures the character’s anguish at being torn between his sense of duty and his love for Mabel without turning Frederic into a whiny wimp.

Lindsay Wilson as Mabel is all voice under that big bonnet she wears. Her soprano seems at times angelic, although Mabel is not above scheming to keep her man. Her duets with Worden bring alive the tender yet passionate emotions of first love and wrap the audience in a warm blanket of song.

Debra Hangge as Frederic’s nanny and Joe Marshall as Major General Stanley provide the absurdity that is part and parcel of every G&S show. Hangge’s demand that her former charge marry her seems ludicrous until she explains the advantages of older women. Marshall harrumphs and gallops his way through the part, charm-ing the audience with his foibles, follies and tearful sense of duty.

The costumes designed by Phyllis Gibson and Linda Firlotte Grindle are delightful and worthy of a professional company. The sets, on the other hand, appear to get short shrift compared to the work and money put into the billowing skirts worn by the Major General’s 24 daughters.

“The Pirates of Penzance” is a warm and welcome offering amidst the blizzards of winter. This kind of silliness sung so beautifully will drive away the winter blues as surely as these pirates seduce the general’s daughter and true love triumphs over duty.

jharrison@bangordailynews.net

990-8207

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