The Very Model of a Major Good Time

There’s something thrilling about seeing a show you’ve never seen before. Yet even if you have the faintest familiarity with a production, when that red curtain rises it erases everything that came before – including 100 plus years of history and acclaim – and it’s as if it’s happening for the very first time. You can never recapture that moment, not with the grandest revision or the wildest reimagining, so I’m thankful that my first brush withThe Pirates of Penzance came at the hands of the Cohoes Music Hall.

I knew nothing of the show, other than the fact that it was created by the legendary team of Arthur Sullivan and W. S. Gilbert, and I’d had no more than a fleeting bit of pop culture exposure courtesy of the ‘Major General’s Song’. Beyond that I was pirate virgin, waiting for my pirate booty to be plucked and plundered with a snappy bit of song and dance. I’m happy to report that my Pirates of Penzance cherry was perfectly popped in the current production running in Cohoes until February 19.

A light-hearted frolic, wispy as the clouds of the opening set, Pirates is directed with a deftly-nuanced touch byC-R Productions’ own Jim Charles. Far from the darker fare peddled by modern day movies or real-life news, the pirates here wink and cajole, winning over the audience before the rest of the participants, a tribute as much to the stellar ensemble as to the original brilliant score, which soars and floats gloriously amid the February doldrums.

An operetta demands a blithe hand, and this romp is a broad, and at times earnestly moving, bit of escapism. Completely engaging as an effortlessly-amusing good time, it finds the pirates on the comical rather than fearsome side of things. The Pirate King is more Johnny Depp than Captain Hook, played with charismatic scene-stealing debauchery by Jesse Coleman. Mr. Coleman commands and pilots the proceedings with swashbuckling fierceness, moving convincingly between compassion, empathy, anger, and haplessness with delicious abandon. Anchored by the dulcet tones of John Farchione as Frederic and the glittering coloratura of Kellie Cundiff as Mabel, the production sails grandly towards its happy ending, pausing only at the show-stopping rendition of the Major General’s Song, sung flawlessly by Jerry Christakos, who brings the added depth of heart necessary to set the second act on fire.

Whenever Pirates’ broad humor threatens to be too much, it suddenly offers forth a bit of wit and cleverness to keep it in check, standing up to the test of time, if not improving upon the original material. While the first act builds and builds, the second lands running, with an enchanting other-worldly set, and the non-stop entertainment that doesn’t give out until it’s over.

If it’s a witty frolic and some good old-fashioned entertainment you’re on the hunt for this winter, I highly recommend this pirate’s life for you.

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