"Pirates of Penzance" at the Pasadena Playhouse is the combination of a summer beach party, a traveling troupe of gifted entertainers, and a tea party with the Mad Hatter. From the moment you enter the theater, at any time a beach ball may come careening toward your head. Thankfully they are very soft.
The Playhouse has been transformed to create an immersive and engaging experience, a characteristic of Chicago theater company The Hypocrites. The entire stage has been extended to accommodate three large bleachers where most of the audience will sit, decked with colorful folding chairs. The bleachers surround a small angular doc with a tower at the end, behind which the word "DUTY" is displayed in bold red on white. (The actors all turn toward this backdrop every time the word is said, which is often). Between the bleachers and doc there are two tables, with kiddie pools on top, a few benches and even some ice chests where the rest of the audience sits and the performance takes place. This seating is called the "promenade" and people are constantly shuffled about depending on where the actors need to go. For some, this might be exhilarating sitting so close to the action and even taking part in the show, for others the safety of a bleacher seat is preferred.
This production of "Pirates of Penzance," directed and adapted by Sean Graney, is full of small, entertaining jokes. At almost any point in the production each character is doing something unassuming and amusing, sometimes as simple as wiggling the fake mustache glued to their upper lip. The show is playful and these moments that break the fourth wall make the entire show pleasant, though there aren't many laugh out loud moments.
This cast is the driving force of the production. When the doors open and the audience is allowed in the theater, the actors are already onstage with their instruments, ready to serenade and engage with the crowd. They all play instruments, most perform with several, ranging from guitars and a banjo to a flute and even a saw. The entire group is well matched and musically talented–there isn't a bad voice among them–and they share the stage and the space harmoniously, or as best as they can when ushering audience members out of their spots.
This is a unique piece of theater that Los Angeles is lucky to have. The Pasadena Playhouse has just announced a one-week extension that will let more people experience this fun show.
"Pirates of Penzance" is playing through February 25th at the Pasadena Playhouse (39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena CA). Tickets start at $25. For more information visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org.