Stage Reviews

“The Pirates of Penzance” and “Morning’s at Seven”

To live and die off Cornwall

The ingenue nearly steals the show. When was the last time you heard that?

The Cabrillo Music Theatre’s “The Pirates of Penzance” at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza features uniformly stunning voices, some purely so as a matter of technique, some because of a wonderful naturalness. The costuming (costume coordinator Chris Steele) is ample and charming. The choreography is delightful; the program credits Jackie Neill with recreating original choreography, presumably from the 1980s Joseph Papp version the production claims as its basis. But is this enough to absorb an audience?

As a matter of taste, this “Pirates” is the very model of a modern major musical — overamplified and with contemporary references wedged into an otherwise of-the-period production.

What’s with the trend in amplification? Without a microphone, the voice of Stephanie La Torre (Edith) could rebound off the back wall of the theater and probably be heard on the nearby 101 freeway. Gerard Lebeda (Frederic), who has a full, but not heavy, tenor voice, is given a head-mike that stuck from his ear like a receptionist’s telephone headset.

This shouldn’t take away from visually pleasing staging, some fun and funny choreography that makes the singers look like dancers and a return of the runway downstage of the orchestra pit.

Playing poor, middle-aged Ruth, Eileen Boyd has an unusually natural voice and a heartfelt interpretation that verges on the too-straight.

As The Pirate King, James Anest has a baritone voice that resonates in his head and those of his listeners.

As the Sergeant of Police, the tall, loose-limbed Dink O’Neal moves and clowns like Ray Bolger, and notwithstanding his pleasant baritone voice and charming characterization, it would be wonderful to see him in his own dance concert.

Still, with the looks of Michelle Pfeiffer and the comedic quirkiness of Meg Ryan, it is Kristin Peterson as the ingenue Mabel who tops the cast, vocally and as a fully-fleshed character.

Major General Stanley Scott Guy is cuddly but can’t quite spit out the lyrics cleanly enough.

In their penultimate number, the friends who plow the sea finally let loose in the too-short “With Cat-Like Tread” with the energy and focus that would have engaged the audience at the outset.

“The Pirates of Penzance” sails through Aug. 1, Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. Tel. 805.449.2775.

Browning leaves

For the gentle folk of Paul Osborn’s 1930s play, “Morning’s at Seven,” their years certainly aren’t at the spring. This is not to say they don’t behave like 16-year-olds.

Four senior-citizen sisters live arguably too close to one another — two in one house, one in the house across the yard and one down the street. They have their own marital issues that may now be dormant, but when the grown son of one finally brings home the woman he has been dating for 12 years, the dust gets kicked up.

While Theatre 40’s theater is being de-asbestosed, the play is in production across the alley, on the stage of the Beverly Hills High School auditorium. The acoustics are better (not that acoustics are necessary when the actors are literally arm’s distance away); but the audience is split in two facing halves, so we must look at each other throughout the play. Best wishes to Theatre 40 for a speedy renovation.

Director Stephen Tobolowsky keeps the acting tender, laughing with and not at the too-human characters.

The majority of cast members may not be in their chronological springs, but it’s inordinately pleasing to see older actors playing older characters, all with finely trained speaking voices.

The sisters are portrayed by Gloria Strook (Cora), Dee Croxton (Aaronetta), Linde Gibb (Ida) and Lorraine Michaels (Esther) with the love and nonlove sisters can muster.

Their husbands are played by Joseph Ruskin (Theodore), Stuart Weiss (Carl) and Gene Ross (David). Only three husbands among four sisters? Therein lies one of the rubs.

David Hunt Stafford plays the mama’s boy who brings his longtime girlfriend home. How or when he had time for her is one of the play’s mysteries, as it seems he’s never left the pale. Ann Hearn plays the long-suffering darling.

The acting is uniformly good, but standouts include Stafford’s work as the Milquetoast sonny-boy and Ross’ voice that lets him whisper, “I’m sorry,” and have it shake the theater

Ultimately, all’s as right with the characters’ world as the world can ever get.

“Morning’s at Seven” plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Aug. 21 at Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills (at Beverly Hills High School). Tel. 323.936.5842.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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