NOTE: This review is running a little late because of the Beehive’s weekend grumpiness.
Number of teddy bears skewered with a sword in the new Fresno Grand Opera production of “The Pirates of Penzance”: One.
Number of humans skewered: None.
You can’t get much cheerier than that.
Thanks to nimble comic direction, robust singing and a slick, energetic cast, this version of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operetta romps its way to crowd-pleasing status. (It repeats 2 p.m. Sunday at the Saroyan Theatre.)
Stage director Bill Fabris, who has overseen so many productions of “Pirates” across the country (he isn’t sure, but he thinks it’s 14) that he probably dreams in “Major General” rhymes, is the key to the success of this one. Every carefully choreographed moment on stage is crisp and self-assured. (When the Pirate King, played with appealing swagger and a rousing voice by an impressive Daniel Klein, ends his big number, he fends off all his fellow pirates with a clever blade placed behind his back.) Time and again, Fabris’ staging invigorates the operetta’s wacky but dated silliness.
Bee photo / Craig Kohlruss
Matthew Chellis was in fine voice Friday night as the earnest Frederic, the pirate apprentice who falls for the beautiful Mabel (an adept and very funny Maureen Francis). Local singers Jeffrey Lee, as Samuel, the pirate lieutenant, and Melissa Wolfmann, as one of Mabel’s sisters, bring their trademark professionalism to smaller roles. Matthew Trevino, as the Sergeant of Police, is a highlight.
I didn’t care as much for Korby Myrick’s Ruth, the pirate maid, whose diction was never as clear as the other principals and whose voice just didn’t seem all that suited to the role.
The standout: Jason Budd’s hysterical Major-General Stanley, who has a romping good time on stage strutting about with his mutton-chopped hyperactivity and wearing an enormous plume on his military hat only slightly smaller than a grain elevator. (Of course, if you’re the Major-General in this show and aren’t close to a standout with this oversized and over-the-top role, there’s probably something wrong.)
I can’t forget the Fresno Grand Opera Chorus in this production. The men (as pirates and Keystone-style cops) and the women (as the daughters) are such an integral part of this show – and, with a few exceptions – so solidly in character, that they elevate the quality of the entire production. it’s a treat to watch their goofy antics.
And as far as that poor teddy bear is concerned – well, don’t worry too much. No permanent damage. They tend to be resilient creatures. Just like this classic operetta.