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Hidden among all the zealous diversions are moments of charm

April 14, 2007

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    April 14, 2007
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    Opera Carolina News

Hidden among all the zealous diversions are moments of charm

Why are the Gilbert and Sullivan operas as lively today as they were in the Victorian era? The screwy characters. The wordplay. The catchy music. Everything about them is light on its feet. That's how they've outrun the Grim Reaper of changing tastes.

The opposite of this nimbleness: trying too hard. That's what Opera Carolina's production of "The Pirates of Penzance" does.

It's busy, busy, busy. And it looks like work, work, work.

Pirates kick up their boot-clad heels. Policemen become a low-kicking chorus line. Maidens scamper, hop and frolic. When the main characters aren't going through similar exertions, laugh-seeking shtick usually takes over. Meanwhile, the lighting changes jarringly and often.

Maybe stage director Bill Fabris aims for all this to enhance the zaniness. But that isn't what happens. The more bustle and byplay, the heavier it all looks. These are singers, after all. En masse, they're an ungainly bunch of hoofers.

All but hidden amid the hullabaloo is a show with charm and fun. When there's a break in the hyperactivity -- or when it's possible to tune out the distractions -- the appeal sneaks through.

At Thursday's opening, Marcus McConico's ringing voice and engaging manner made Frederic -- the reluctant pirate at the story's center -- a hero worth rooting for. The other focus was Keith Jurosko, who played Maj. Gen. Stanley, father of Frederic's sweetheart and her many sisters.

Jurosko's voice was as zesty as dry gin -- and as potent, too, when it came to flavoring the words and music. (His high-speed entrance number was saddled with Fabris' single goofiest contribution: the motions of the chorus' hands and arms, worthy of the "Macarena" school of gesture.)

The characters surrounding them were a lively crew -- especially Sean Cooper as a jovial Pirate King and the juicy-voiced Alta Dantzler as Ruth, the former nursemaid who struggles not to admit her shortage of glamour. As Frederic's beloved Mabel, Elisa Cordova might have gotten into trouble with wordsmith Gilbert because of her mushy enunciation, but she had spirit.

William Boggs led a small but lively contingent of the Charlotte Symphony. The chorus sounded surprisingly hearty considering how much energy their other labors must have taken. The set by Howard Tsvi Kaplan -- especially Act 2's crumbling chapel -- had a storybook simplicity that served the tale well. And even Fabris' staging had strong outlines. If only he had known when to let well enough alone. Music REVIEW

The Pirates of Penzance
The Gilbert and Sullivan comedy ends Opera Carolina's season.
WHEN: 8 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Belk Theater, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St.
TICKETS: $14-$90.
DETAILS: 704-372-1000; www.operacarolina.org.