The Pirates of Penzance | Ted Sperling & Orchestra of St. Luke’s, MasterVoices
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The Pirates of Penzance | Ted Sperling & Orchestra of St. Luke’s, MasterVoices

New York City Center

WHAT MAKES ANOTHER PRODUCTION of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance stand out in a crowded New York City landscape? I’ll explain in two words: Deborah Voigt. Well, and Douglas Hodge. And throw in a host of Broadway luminaries … and a chorus of 100-plus … and the wonderful Orchestra of St. Luke’s … and …

Ted Sperling conducted two semi-staged performances on October 15 and 16 at New York City Center, featuring MasterVoices (formerly The Collegiate Chorale). Beginning with a beautifully nuanced, slightly truncated, overture, Sperling proceeded to corral a cast of principal singers whose vocal styles ranged from opera to Joseph Papp-inspired belt.

On opening night, cast, ensemble and chorus were all—in various degrees, and somewhat distractingly—on book, a la City Center’s Encores series, with chorus arranged on risers behind the action taking place downstage. Tempos seemed to drag a bit throughout, no doubt a considered decision to ensure that the words would be heard.

If the principals were (almost) charmingly under-rehearsed, the same cannot be said of the huge and meticulously prepared MasterVoices chorus, demonstrating their hallmark rich harmonic sound and impressive diction.

As the aging nursery maid, Ruth, Deborah Voigt was hardly lined and gray-haired. The role of Ruth is small, and much of it sits outside Voigt’s usual range, but, really, who cares? She is Deborah Voigt, and what a joy to hear her sing anything! Looking radiant and glam—and ever so slightly coy—she breezed through the mezzo vocals with a few deliciously un-mezzo flourishes. The Act I duet with Frederic was extended, giving Voigt a bit more to sing, and, in a truly inspired inside-joke moment, the act ended with the jilted Ruth alone on stage, reading Frederic’s indenture papers, discovering the “paradox” and throwing her head back in laughter.

The brash, belty Edith of Betsy Wolfe may not have been to everyone’s taste, but I really liked her: she tackled the role with bravura and beauty. Montego Glover gave Kate a Broadway flair, as well. Julia Udine sang Mabel with a sweet, secure soprano sound.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hunter Parrish (Frederic) has a breathy, pop sound that read as sincere, especially in tenderer moments. As an over-the-top, campy Pirate King, Phillip Boykin gyrated around the stage and sang with gusto and piratical glee.

David Garrison reprised his solid, amusing take on the Sergeant of Police, having led them to death and glory during the Broadway run of the New York Shakespeare Festival production. As Samuel, the impressive Zachary James displayed vocal oomph and range. Much of the action was carried out by a small ensemble of young performers, semi-costumed and totally enmeshed in the goings-on. Of particular note: the policemen, well-choreographed and totally hilarious.

And, finally, Douglas Hodge. Despite one or two unintentionally funny “Where am I?” moments, his Major-General Stanley was so well-drawn, so at ease and in command that it made one hope that we might one day see him in a full production.   

All in all, the performance was enormously entertaining, and the audience—seemingly composed largely of non-G&S aficionados—left the theatre humming snatches of the score and grinning from ear to ear.  —Carol Davis 

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