It's an auspicious time for a production of "The Pirates of Penzance," and I say that not just because Park Square Theatre's take on the operetta includes the line, "I object to men who grab women without their consent, as son-in-law or even as president."
That line, of course, does not exist in Gilbert and Sullivan's Victorian-era show, although, sadly, it could have. But Park Square's intelligently silly spin on the classic updates some references, combines some characters and winks rather broadly to the audience in a successful attempt, as director Doug Scholz-Carlson indicates in the program, to recreate "what it must have felt like when the music was fresh."
To get there, the production borrows some actual details. Composer Arthur Sullivan really did have to summon from memory his music for the show's New York world premiere because he had forgotten the score back in England.
This "Pirates" takes place during rehearsals on a transatlantic voyage, but frequently pauses for asides to the audience in which we learn about the original production's history (contentious), reviews (raves) and what critics identified as flaws (chiefly, an actor named Hugh Talbot, winningly played here by Max Wojtanowicz, whom this critic declines to trash).
You might not want this to be your first "Pirates," because some of the music (beautifully performed by a three-piece, onstage band) and a lot of the story didn't make the cut, but I'd recommend it for your second or ninth. No matter how many times you've seen it, you ain't seen nothin' like Christina Baldwin's take on the tongue-twisting "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General." A forerunner of rap that was composed long before Kendrick Lamar started spitting out rhymes in his bassinet, "Major-General" is famous for its verbosity ("How many big words are in that verse?" asks Baldwin's character, a producer/actor named Helen) and Baldwin virtuosically performs it three times in three different tempos: fast, faster and warp-speed.
Other highlights include the witty "When You Had Left Our Pirate Fold," as sung and danced by Bradley Greenwald, Elisa Pluhar and Wojtanowicz, and an amusing scene that spoofs a line from Gilbert and Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore" and that may bring to mind the inspired scene when Sideshow Bob sang "Pinafore" on "The Simpsons." But Scholz-Carlson's command of tone is so sure that this "Pirates" also hits the right notes when it needs to be more tender, as in its ingénues' (Wojtanowicz, Alice McGlave) star-crossed love story.
With all of the broad comedy, played directly to the audience, things could get out of hand, but the production feels disciplined and serious in its giddiness. The effect is that all of the characters — and, by extension, the actors playing them — seem to be having a swell time in this unorthodox "Pirates." And it is contagious.