Gilbert And Sullivan Live On at the Kelsey Theatre

by Jean Brenner

Major General John Shanken-Kaye of Doylestown, Pa., center, with some bumbling policemen, from left, Dan Slothower of Plainsboro, Jim Zimmerman of Hamilton, Dave Walter of Allentown, Mike Schiumo of Horsham, Pa., and John Russell of Mercerville. PinnWorth Productions presents THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE at MCCC’s Kelsey Theatre Jan. 13-22.

Sometimes, attending a community theatre production – be it a play or a musical – can be rather like attending a pot-luck dinner: seldom will you know the menu, and often, the quality of the food is questionable. An appetizer might be delicious, but the beef stew might be “off”. The salad could be wilted, but a tasty dressing saves it. The desserts may be only ordinary chocolate chip cookies rather than creative crepes.

Happily, all of the people packed into the Kelsey Theatre at Mercer County Community College on Friday night for the opening of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE enjoyed a divine full-course meal prepared by Master Chef, director Lou J. Stalsworth and plated by Pinn Worth Productions in association with the Kelsey Theatre and the MCCC Entertainment Technology Program.

A large cast of talented singers and actors satisfied our palates with the kind of rich, well-prepared, well-presented entertainment of which we wish to partake during every theatre experience.

After a roaringly successful opening in December, 1879, Arthur Sullivan wrote home to his mother about the only G & S show ever to open in New York, in the following manner: “Gilbert’s libretto is ingenious, clever, wonderfully funny in parts and sometimes brilliant in dialogue – beautifully written for the music, as is all that he does. The music is infinitely superior in every way to (the HMS.) Pinafore – ‘tunier’ and more developed, of a high class altogether. I think that in time it will be very popular.”

Sullivan was prophetic! Just as New York audiences recognized the brilliance of PIRATES, so have millions of audience members through the past 133 years cheered their timelessness in repeated performances of Gilbert and Sullivan shows by Gilbert & Sullivan societies across the world.

G & S live on in this fine Kelsey Theatre production.  Taking charge is John Zimmerman who not only sings well and with gusto, but his portrayal of the Pirate King  –swaggering, posturing, employing all kinds of innuendos — had me laughing aloud repeatedly every time he was on stage. His comedic timing is excellent; his singing voice is strong and effective. He commands the stage when he is the primary part of the scene, and sometimes when he is only in the background. Applause was loud and long as Zimmerman took his individual curtain call.

His band of pirates followed Zimmerman’s lead, playing the roles broadly, often with buffoonery, using many tried and true comic techniques. Additionally, the guys all could sing!

Camaraderie among the men was obvious, and the band of police officers under the helm of Police Sergeant Michael Schiumo, captured similar performing techniques, including well-done singing, dancing, and timing as they pulled off some complicated “marching.”  Schiumo kept his buffoonery and swaggering to the right level so as not to compete with Zimmerman.  That’s what friends do.

The show’s love story — piqued/developed/thwarted/resolved — is between Mabel and Frederic.

Mabel, the eldest daughter of the Major General, is portrayed by Elizabeth Rzasa. A Dolly-Parton sized woman with a wonderful soprano voice. Rzasa is very well trained vocally, and very experienced as a performer and music director.  Thankfully, she does not “warble,” as do some sopranos. The clarity of her voice is just right; she is delightful as a singer and an actress as she “plays” with Mabel’s music.

The voice of Jim Petro as Frederic is a pleasure to hear. His strong bari-tenor tones and pleasantness of face and form are perfect for this role.   There were times I hoped he would “take stage” a bit more, but perhaps that show of physical strength was best left to his pirate king. It’s no wonder Petro has been cast in major roles in many musicals; he is quite, quite good. Together, he and Rzasa make a handsome, believable couple.

As the Major General, John Shanken-Kaye, performing his ninth role at the Kelsey, has acted in many theatres across the area. “I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General” is his big number. Sung with the ensemble, the very humorous, fast-paced number comes near the end of Act I.  With words fast tumbling over words, it must be the earliest form of “rap,” except these words can be understood. The song requires great speech “dexterity.” Shanken-Kaye’s pompous portrayal shows skills he has developed over years of theatre experience.

Alycia Bauch, as Ruth, the plain, Pirate “groupie” who helped to raise Frederic, sings and acts really well, making a surprise transition to a pretty hussy in Act II.

There is not a disparaging word to be said about the Kelsey production. All 22 + actors were outstanding. The eight wards of the Major General and nine or ten pirates and policemen sang, danced, and acted very, very well.  Some had outstanding voices for an ensemble. The 16 member orchestra on stage in the rear did a highly commendable, oven outstanding job under the able direction of Laurie Gougher.

Do yourself a favor. See this production of PIRATES. And, when you go, allow yourself to suspend disbelief. Don’t try to understand what is going on. Let it happen to you. Just watch, listen, and have a fun-filled evening of entertainment.

by Gilbert and Sullivan
Directed by Lou J. Stalsworth
January 13-22, 2012
Special daytime performance for groups Fri., Jan 20, 10 AM
Pinn Worth Productions
Kelsey Theatre
at Mercer County Community College
West Windsor, NJ

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1 comment

Lisa Bell January 23, 2012 - 6:03 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more; such…refinement!


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