This afternoon we were off to a matinee performance of Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance at Grand Valley State University. This is glorious G&S nonsense fare, with one of the all-time great patter songs, "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General". The voices, both leads and chorus, were exceptional and though they were miked, for once they had the singers and orchestra balanced to the point where the microphones were never the issue and the duets lovely.
The 2pm matinee was the closing show -- I overheard one of the pirates in the lobby as we left telling someone they'd start striking the set in fifteen minutes. I mention this because many of last weekend's opening shows were canceled due to the blizzard. Many ticket holders were rainchecked into this weekend's shows.
Oh That Yellow
Which brings us to the sets and costumes. The Pirates of Penzance debuted in 1879 and, like the rest of the Gilbert & Sullivan oeuvre, is decidedly Victorian. When the West Michigan Savoyards do their annual G&S show, they always start the traditional way -- with the portrait of Queen Victoria and the audience standing and singing "God Save The Queen." Not this show.
They had a blue curtain closed when we entered the house -- usually GVSU productions have the stage revealed. The Act I set was... decidedly 1960s op-art. The pirates were dressed as 60s flower children -- were these costumes left over from Hair the other year? The Pirate King, thin and with long flowing locks, appeared to be channeling Jim Morrison. And then there was the ladies chorus. They were dressed for the beach in some all-yellow homage to girl gangs from some Bond film or Target ad. And matching bouffant white wigs. Very cosmic.
Occasionally, large fabric birds were played from the tech rafters overhead -- pretty amusing.
Our Major General glided onto stage in a shiny red motorized scooter with an oxygen supply, plastic tubing and nasal cannula. No kidding!
Change That Era
Directors have a long history of changing the setting of plays, most notably Shakespeare. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. So far, this was borderline odd, but the singing was good. Mrs. Dr. Phil's major concern was that such changes put the spotlight on the director, not the play.
The Second Act...
Gah. The set is still out of megalomaniac Bond villain, with a background like Dr. Strangelove or Wargames with incoming ICBM-like tracks over the oceans. Mabel, the hero's girl, is dressed in some sort of fascist uniform, beret and yellow armband. Worse, was her treatment of the police unit that'd be going after the pirates. Way over the top and unnecessary -- WHAT were they thinking?
When we saw Hair the other year, we wondered what current generation college student actors would think of the hippie love era. Now we have 60s hippies, sorority girls, James Bond movies, the Cold War and fascism. The older audience reaction is going to be very different than those of the cast, no matter how well they sing.
Overall, it was a lovely performance. But it begs questions of how far setting and costuming can go.