The Hypocrites joyfully brings Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic Pirates of Penzance to life with their beach party themed adaptation. With audience members sitting in the thick of the boisterous action, this performance is exhilarating.
The story follows Freddy (Shawn Pfautsch) as he leaves his apprenticeship with the Pirate King (Robert McLean) to pursue more noble aspirations. He meets Mabel (Christine Stulik), the daughter of a modern major general, and they fall in love. The Major-General (Matt Kahler) and his daughters (Emily Casey, Tina Munoz-Pandya, Amanda Martinez) narrowly escape the pirates (Danny Goodman, Mario Aivazian, Dana Omar). Freddy vows to get rid of the pirates until he is reminded of his contract and his unwavering sense of duty. As is characteristic of Gilbert and Sullivan’s farcical operettas, in the face of conflict and tragedy, there is always a clause or two or three that leads to a happy ending.
The 80-minute adaptation hits all of the major plot points and musical moments while seamlessly infusing witty pop culture references. Director Sean Graney has adapted and staged the piece with abandon. The beach party theme, achieved with Tom Burch’s scenic design and Alison Siple’s colorful costume design, gives the piece an absurd vitality that we are eager to share. Katie Spelmann’s choreography maintains the upbeat flavor with variety and simplicity.
Under Andra Velis Simon’s musical direction, the actors are a tight musical and vocal ensemble with effusive energy. They juggle a lot of responsibilities at once: playing an instrument and a character, nailing their cues, singing, dancing and being mindful of keeping audience members engaged and safe. While there are a few actors who stand out, the heart of the show is undoubtedly their work as an ensemble. It is so easy to fall in love with each one of them.
Christine Stulik’s voice is stunning and her comic performance as Mabel and Ruth is the highlight of the show. Shawn Pfautsch endears the dutiful Freddy with charisma and naivety. Matt Kahler plays the Major-General with vocal bravado and boyish physicality, which, to me, is absolutely perfect.
The key to this enjoyable experience is the audience interaction. Audience members have the option of sitting on the stage to follow and be in the midst of the action. At the beginning of the show, the actors make it clear how they will communicate with audience members onstage. It is one thing to watch such a well-executed show, it is quite another delightful thing to participate in it so closely. It is the perfect antidote to cold winter days.
Pirates of Penzance, The Hypocrites, NYU Skirball, 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square. Closes December 10th.