It's funny how songs bounce around in your head the first day or so after watching a tuneful musical. Before experiencing the perky but flawed new Good Company Players production of "The Pirates of Penzance" at Roger Rocka's Dinner Theater, I would have guessed that one of the songs that always sticks with me from the show — the famously tongue-twisting Major-General's song, say, or the addictive patter of the "Paradox" number — would have been rattling on repeat in my interior world the next day.
But no. The morning after I saw the show, the tune was clear and insistent: "For I am a pirate king!" I hummed to myself as I brushed my teeth. "And it is, it is, a glorious thing to be a Pirate King!"
Why? Heck if I know. Maybe I always wanted to be a pirate. (Or, at least, a nice pirate like the ones in "Penzance.") I suspect a good part of it has to do with GCP veteran Peter Allwine, who plays the King with such booming appeal. (It's one of my favorite recent performances from him.) Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed's natty costumes and David Pierce's cheery set helped put me in the pirate mood, too. (All pirates should have regular access to washing machines.)
And, of course, there's Arthur Sullivan's music, which with an irresistible song such as "Pirate King" can scurry up into your ear canal, much like something scary you'd find in the jungle, and burrow its way into your brain — there to slosh around for a while.
While this production is handsomely staged and filled with energy, there are other songs and parts of the show that didn't grab me with such gusto, however.
Good Company has only staged "Penzance" once before in its 40-year-plus history, back in 1986. I think I understand the hesitation. The show isn't a perfect fit for the company. With a few exceptions, the vocals — which call for more of an operatic and less musical-theater style — are a little thin in this production. And though director Laurie Pessano updates the 19th century storyline a smidge (Frederic the apprentice pirate, played with comic charm by Teddy Maldonado, at one point shows off an Elvis hip swivel), there's a slight musty feel to the proceedings.
This show's biggest challenge is the recorded music, which is not an easy fit with a Gilbert & Sullivan title. I'm well aware (and sympathetic to the fact) that recorded music is a necessity for Good Company because a live orchestra would be too expensive. But if ever the company were to splurge for live accompaniment — even just a solo pianist — it should be for a show like this.
Gilbert & Sullivan wrote patter songs — infectious little melodies that race along in a tumble of notes and lyrics — and because of that, split-second timing is everything. There were several times on opening night, including the always anticipated Major-General's song, that the timing got off just a smidge — enough to detract from the confidence of the piece. (Another song with issues: the second-act "My Eyes Are Fully Open.")
More than that, the recorded music boxes a performer into a precise cadence each and every time, robbing the Major-General, say, of a chance to linger over choice phrases or be a little spontaneous.
The laughs come easy with Maldonado as Frederic, who we learn is indentured to pirates until age 21 — until the revelation that he was a Leap Year baby complicates the issue. Emily Pessano plays his beloved, Mabel, the daughter of the Major-General, with a prim, sassy flair. Richard Adamson is well cast as the blustery Major-General, but he had a bit of a rough opening night. Rebecca Sarkisian (who shares the role with Tracy Jones) has some nice vocal moments as Ruth, Frederic's nursemaid, but I think her comic take on the role could be zestier and more pronounced.
Christy Hathaway and Kindle Cowger give sweet performances as Edith and Kate, respectively, also daughters of the Major-General. And I'm impressed with Shawn Williams, who does a nifty turn as the Sergeant of Police in the well-known "A Policeman's Lot is Not a Happy One" song. (Marc Gonzalez's choreography is a treat.) I've watched Williams progress and grow through various mainstage roles at GCP, and he's able here to carry an entire number on his shoulders.
And then there's Allwine, who just seems so darn happy in this show — and radiates warmth, likability and a hearty command of the stage. He helps give this show an added oomph. With him as Pirate King, I just might find myself wanting to enlist. Hope there's a 401(k) match.
"The Pirates of Penzance," through July 13, Roger Rocka's Dinner Theater, 1226 N. Wishon Ave., gcplayers.com, (559) 266-9494. $29-$50.