If you’re only going to do one show a year, you ought to choose a good one.
Unfortunately, “The Pirated Penzance,” a quasi-parody of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance,” is not of a quality befitting the normally stellar Payson Community Theatre.
The premise is that it’s 1933, just after talking movies have come in to fashion. Many of the silent film stars have terrible speaking voices, but cheap director Roger Marshall (Daniel Ellis) doesn’t want to replace them. Instead, he hires unattractive but nice-sounding actors to dub the voices in for the good-looking stars.
The film they’re doing is “Pirates of Penzance,” and mid-way through filming, the voice actors get fed up with being second-class citizens, and a brave one named Daniel (Nathan Matthews), who has an uninteresting relationship with Marshall’s daughter Constance (Julie Jensen), sneaks out of the sound booth, knocks out his lip-synching counterpart, and takes over the role himself.
Soon (but not soon enough) it’s pandemonium, as all the voice actors are konking the screen actors over the head, donning their costumes, and performing the movie themselves. Marshall doesn’t notice; he’s too busy playing the Major General.
This takes up the entire first act. For about 20 minutes, the only humor going on is that one of the men who plays a pirate also puts on a dress and wig and plays one of the Major General’s daughters. (Why?) A man dressed as a woman may be funny, but not for as long as they want us to laugh at it.
Simultaneously, there’s the humor in Daniel’s subtle wrecking of the show. Mostly, though, he’s just standing behind the main cast, mocking them and singing his part. Not very funny — but it goes on for 10 minutes.
There is good potential here, but it’s wasted. When the film actors are lip-synching as the voice actors speak, it’s often hard to tell they’re lip-synching at all. Why not have the lip-synching be way off, or have the voices be inappropriate for the bodies? (That second option is explored later, and it is funny.)
The plot in the second act directly parallels “Pirates of Penzance,” as Marshall calls the police to come arrest the voice actors who have commandeered the studio. There are too many forced parallels, though, where a “Pirates” song and plot device are included simply because they have to be, and our actual story — about the film studio — makes little sense.
That would be fine if this were a parody of “Pirates.” Then, the show’s purpose would be to make fun of the old classic, not to present a coherent new story. But it’s not a parody, strictly speaking. The lyrics to the songs have been changed, but there is no holding up of “Pirates” to ridicule or anything else in the vein of satire or parody. It’s basically a new story that kind of parallels an old one, with borrowed music.
It doesn’t help that Ellis, as Marshall, is a fine singer but a flat actor, or that the volunteer orchestra, bless their hearts, hit many a wrong note the night I was there.
The policemen have a good dance number, choreographed by Molly Mangelson, and there are some amusing moments when the lip-synching doesn’t match the voices coming from the sound booth. But these are not enough to save the show — rather amateurishly written to begin with, I think — from coming across as a tedious, over-long campfire skit.
Why not just do “Pirates of Penzance”?
Seriously, if you're going to do one show a year, pick a good one. Also, not that it had any bearing on my opinion of the show, but the publicity woman for this show called me at home at 8 in the morning to ask which night I was coming. Should you ever find yourself doing publicity for a theater, don't call the reviewer at home at 8 in the morning for any reason. But if you must, at least make sure you have a good show for him to see.