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Monday, July 11, 2011

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (1980)

Joe Papp’s giddy revival of Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta was an enormous hit @ the Delacorte/ Shakespeare-in-the-Park with Linda Ronstadt, Kevin Kline & Rex Smith. It went on to an award-winning run on B’way and then toured internationally. But when the original cast & crew made the film adaptation, all the joy had leaked out; PIRATES was a stiff, a bore, canned theater. (Worse, an improbably awful teenybopper knock-off, THE PIRATE MOVIE/’82, beat them to the theaters.) Yet here, risen from the dead, is a rediscovered live taping of the original Delacorte production, made on a windy summer’s night in front of an ecstatic audience and capturing much of the original fun, goofy sentiment & theatrical magic that had caused all the excitement. Shot for CBS, but never shown, the tape is in pretty rough shape with overexposed lighting, distorted sound, degraded color; and the performances, especially the singing, are catch-as-catch-can, the ladies ‘belt’ with abandon. But, as the interpolated trio from RUDDIGORE says, it really doesn’t ‘matter, matter, matter.’ Linda Ronstadt may have a few tumbles as she moves thru her vocal registers, but she seems to enjoy trying out her coloratura and she looks delightfully kissable. So does her co-star, Rex Smith, who in shot after shot looks almost laughably like Princess Di! (Truth is, he’s a tad prettier.) Kevin Kline, George Rose & Patricia Routledge (yep, the KEEPING UP APPEARANCES Brit-Com star) give spectacularly assured musical comedy perfs, and the little known Tony Azito earned a touch of glory leading a squad of loose-limbed police thru their ‘Keystone Kops meet Roy Bolger’ dances. G&S purists will be pleasantly surprised at how affectionate & straightforward this is, with just a few interpolations & key changes. Though the new orchestrations, which sound like a Mozartian ‘Turkish’ band, may not be meant for the ages. Perhaps that’s true of the whole production, it’s very much of its time. But at least we can now see it for the charmer it once was. Find it on Kultur’s Broadway Theatre Archive DVD series.

CONTEST: The part of Ruth was the only major role to change hands from the Delacorte to B’way to feature film. Name the three actresses who played the part and the number of Tony Award nominations they have collectively received to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of the NetFlix DVD of your choice. (NO GOOGLING! These contests are too bloody easy!)

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