The subtitle to “The Pirates of Penzance” is “The Slave of Duty,” as it concerns a young man named Frederic who is apprenticed to a band of pirates until his 21st birthday. Unfortunately, he was born on Feb. 29 and has a birthday only every four years, during leap years. By the time he realizes he is duty-bound to serve for another 63 years, he has fallen in love with young Mabel, and the wedding will have to be postponed. Such is the absurd world of W.S. Gilbert.
“The Pirates of Penzance” requires a huge cast, and it is divided into three groups. The band of pirates, headed by the Pirate King; the young women and their father, Major-General Stanley; and the police, headed by the Sergeant.
One character who does not appear to fit neatly into any of these three groups is Frederic’s middle-aged nurse, Ruth, the only woman he has ever seen before leaving the pirates’ service and meeting Mabel.
It is not necessary to record all the many twists and absurdities of the plot, but they are handled with great comic exuberance by the talented cast. The pirates bring bravado, the police Keystone Cops-like farcical comedy, and the women grace and brilliant ensemble singing.
Director Art Tedesco took quite a risk casting two high school students as Frederic and Mabel, but Trey Caperton and Sabina Lueras acquit themselves well. Caperton works a little too hard as Frederic, and so comes off a tad aggressive. But he has a fine singing voice and will grow into an excellent musical theater actor in time. Lueras has a gorgeous voice and was delightful as Mabel.
Warren Wilgus, who was marvelous in the role of Poo-Bah in the recent production of “The Mikado,” is awarded the highly coveted role of Major-General Stanley here. Gilbert and Sullivan songs are not easy to sing, but Wilgus delivers brilliantly, especially the classic “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.” (Try saying “I’m very good at integral and differential calculus; I know the scientific names of beings animalculous” at rapid speed, and you’ll have some idea how hard Gilbert’s lyrics are to sing.)
His wife, Courtney Wilgus, is also wonderful in the excellent comic role of Ruth.
J.J. Mancini is appropriately robust as the Pirate King and has a lovely baritone signing voice as well. Jack Litherland, who was also in “The Mikado,” is very good as the Dogberry-like Sergeant of the police.
The production is anchored in the music of a 10-piece orchestra, which renders Sullivan’s exquisite music with sensitivity and skill. Musical director Darby Fegan conducts with great energy.
“The Pirates of Penzance” is playing through Dec. 10 at the University of New Mexico’s Rodey Theater. For tickets, visit unmtickets.com