Pirates know how to appeal to the simpler pleasures.

Booty Call 

Pirates know how to appeal to the simpler pleasures.

It's back to the future for the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, which opens under its new name with the 125-year-old Pirates of Penzance. Theaters like the Rep and the Arizona Theatre Company, which coproduces this staging, are attempting to shake Gilbert and Sullivan operettas such as this one free of their reputation as rosy-cheeked fare reserved for amateur opera companies.

Director David Ira Goldstein locates this Pirates' booty right where it left it so many moons ago. That's not a slam; rather, Goldstein's obvious fondness for the show heartily embraces its nostalgia factor. If it weren't for decades of technical advances in the craft of theater design (the only thing onstage remotely contemporary), one could imagine leaving the theater for a stroll down a cobblestone street.

Against Bill Forrester's nautically themed set, Sullivan's overture begins cheerily enough, then gets as stormy as the weather. A crew of pirates in Pottery Barn shades of moss and pumpkin (designed by Lindsay W. Davis) battens down the hatches for a deceptively brief swell. By the time we hear Gilbert's first lyrics, the sun is peeking out again as the ship docks on the Cornwall coast where the Pirate King (Timothy McCuen Piggee) is hell-bent on busting his nut.

The lad has never even seen a female form, other than that of Ruth (the marvelous Wendy Lehr), his elderly nurse from childhood. She, in turn, has a little crush on the cute scalawag. Lehr and Piggee mine the Harold and Maude humor in the clumsily titled number "False One, You Have Deceived Me." It's a redeeming transition for Piggee, who until then has hesitantly played his scenes as if he's counting off the steps of his blocking.

He encounters a six-pack of babes gathered on the beach for a picnic, but it's not until he sees Mabel (Morgan James) that he registers what, exactly, his erection means. Their meeting is played hormonally; he physically trembles with each coloratura she emits and is eventually brought to his knees. Once the pirates and the ladies are coupled off (though there are a couple extra men, who will surely make do), the show's big message might as well be embroidered on a pillow: Love Conquers All.

I've not seen a whole lot of Gilbert and Sullivan, and though this production's aesthetic values are high and the ensemble numbers strong and stirring, I won't go out of my way to catch another. I found the rhymes cloyingly self-conscious and so fat with puns as to be blobby. It seemed geared toward an audience's simplest pleasures. In its time, that may have been the point.

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