Remount review – All male Pirates of Penzance – Wilton’s Music Hall

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This is just a shorty review, as last summer I went nuts for the all-male Pirates of Penzance at the Union Theater in Southwark and wrote a very detailed review, much of which is still correct and does not bear repeating. In fact, I wasn’t going to re-review the remount at all, but …

Speaking now of the remount at Wilton’s Music Hall, this is still a good show, a re-energized remounting of a dusty old classic. If you haven’t seen it before, you’ll love the inventive staging and comic choreography.

HOWEVER. I cannot just sit on my critical laurels and say “oh yes this is the best musical of 2009 come back to life and you simply must go.” Frederic (Russell Whitehead), Ruth (Samuel J Holmes) and the Major General (Fred Broom) are still there, and still brilliant: Whitehead is a star G&S lead with the kind of charisma that brought to mind teenaged girls swooning over sparkly vampires in Twilight. But with his gorgeous tenor filling Wilton’s Music Hall, any other voices not up to that level were brought into brilliant, shattering light; and, in the much enlarged space, Alan Richardson as the new incarnation of Mabel has all of the range to sing the role and none of the volume, even merely from the second row. In fact, much of the cleverness of the lyrics became muddled “well it seems to rhyme but who knows what they actually said:” deadly when wit is what makes Pirates shine. Perhaps Richardson was holding back; but Whitehead was not and I expected the two of them to sing apace.

Without some sharper diction or (god forbid) microphones, this Pirates is not able to rise into its former role as a brilliant reincarnation of a tired old classic. Yes, there are lots of fun touches with lighting (the failures to actually spotlight the performers I will ascribe to preview “working the kinks out” issues) and the comedy bits with the policemen’s mustaches, etc., are still worth a laugh. But if you don’t make the text happen, this Pirates is just a novelty show, enjoyable but not unmissable. From the laughter in the audience, it’s clear that people enjoyed themselves, but I’m quite sad that so much has been lost in the move from the smaller space and cannot recommend this as enthusiastically. It’s fun. It’s fine. It’s worth fifteen quid. But it ain’t worth dropping everything to see.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Friday, April 9th, 2010. It continues through May 16th 2010.)

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