Gilbert & Sullivan’s own model back live

LIVE THE KING — Edward Tavalin as the Pirate King in “The Pirates of Penzance” playing at the Hillcrest Center in Thousand Oaks. Courtesy of John Pillsbury

There is much to celebrate in Ventura County these days with the gradual return of musical theater, but the most rewarding of these lately is the reappearance of this cutthroat band of the rocky coasts of western England. ‘England, “The Pirates of Penzance“.

The Ventura County Gilbert and Sullivan Repertoire Company had wrapped up a weekend of its production of G & S’s “The Grand Duke” when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the musical theater to collapse. Today, 19 months later, they are back with three weekends of G & S’s most popular comic opera, which ends on October 17th.

The well-known story concerns a bunch of ineffective pirates who have a policy of not looting orphans, themselves orphans. One of their crew, Apprentice Frederick, is to be released from his contract on his 21st birthday and falls in love with the young girl Mabel, the attractive daughter of Major-General Stanley, who plots to wage war. to pirates by enlisting a squad. clumsy policemen to loot the pirate lair.

Hilarity ensues when Frederick reveals that he was born on February 29 in a leap year, meaning he has several decades left before celebrating his No.21 birthday and must return to the pirate fold.

“The Pirates of Penzance” includes many of G&S ‘best-known melodies and songs, including “I’m the very model of a modern Major-General”, sung with aplomb by Gary Saxer as Stanley; “Poor Wandering”, sung by Mabel; and the ensemble number “With cat-like tread,” whose melody later became “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here.”

Saxer is a repertory company veteran who often plays bossy comedic roles in G&S operas. His ability to pronounce harsh words and follow Zach Spencer’s exceptional little orchestra has never been so good, even when the tempo is increased to “prestissimo agitato”.

As Mabel is the charming Siena Avila, an actress with a bubbly personality that shines through her performance, as well as a lively coloratura soprano voice. Avila, who alternates in the role with Laura S. Barrows, is an astonishing talent whose enthusiasm elevates the performances of an entire company and is as delicious as ever.

As Frédéric, Jonathan Lacayo, a late replacement for the role, does a remarkable job, even though he only has two weeks to learn his role (he’s in almost every scene). Lacayo has a long list of credits in the United States and Mexico, most notably teaching and singing with Los Angeles Opera’s Zarzuela Project.

Edward Tavalin made his debut in the business as the Pirate King, imbuing his character with believable authority while simultaneously playing out the comedic elements with a straight face. It doesn’t hurt that his resonant baritone is one of the best we’ve heard on this stage.

Rounding out the cast, some of the company’s regular rotating performers, including the ever-wonderful Vivian Gibson, who stands out whether she plays a lead or supporting role; Emily Redman Hall, wonderful as the pirate Ruth; the excellent Anthony Moresi as a police sergeant; and the company’s ubiquitous lucky charms, the towering Jim Bukowski and tiny Susanna RA Miller, both dubbed pirates and cops, Miller appearing behind a bushy mustache, as is his custom.

The set includes the talented twin sisters Lilith and Olivia (“Ivy”) Calhoun, who play two of Major-General Stanley’s daughters. Both were awesome singing isolated solos in the song “Climbing over rocky Mountains”, and we look forward to their appearances in future shows.

As always, the production is directed by John and Rebecca Pillsbury, with choreography by Becky Castells. The scenography (produced by Ron Dallas) incorporates evocative rear projections.

“Pirates” is playing until October 17 at the Theater on the Hill at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts, 403 W. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks.

Proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test is required.

For more information, visit

About Marco C. Nichols

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