You needn’t know anything at all about the musical style known as operetta to enjoy this buoyant show at the Sacramento Theater Company. That’s because “The Pirates of Penzance” is all about nonsensical fun. The interesting part is that the silly scenes from 1879 can still earn a big laugh today.
Take, for instance, the faster-than-a-speeding bullet vocal delivery in the song “A Modern Major General.” The words go by so fast that the sheer absurdity of the song makes you smile.
For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
Then mix in some acrobatic singing by the lead soprano, gently mocking serious opera.
Aviva Pressman: (singing)
But what really makes the story go is the pirates, who despite their fierce demeanor turn out to be soft-hearted sorts that will spare anyone who claim to be an orphan. Their jaunty song-and-dance numbers are full of bravado and patriotic swagger.
Michael RJ Campbell: “…For… I am a Pirate King, and it is, it is a glorious thing to be a Pirate King….”
The thing that struck me while watching this show was that most of the people in the audience were seeing Gilbert and Sullivan for the first time – since this kind of entertainment from the late 1800s is not often staged in 2015. And yet the teenagers I spoke with at intermission were clearly having a great time. The show’s irreverent humor and comical inversions – in which the rich and powerful are dolts, and the common folk are much smarter than they appear – translates into comedy in any era, including ours. And the humor is generous, not cruel, making “Pirates of Penzance” easy to embrace.
And watching this performance, with the audience laughing at jokes that were told before their grandparents were born, I couldn’t help marveling at how something old was becoming new, right before my eyes.
“The Pirates of Penzance” continues at the Sacramento Theatre Company through Sunday, May 17th.