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I recently had the task, for a organization's class, to assemble various
performances of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta "The Pirates of Penzance".
This has always been my favorite G&S work, and I have heard many live
performances, plus I have played the Pirate King in a revue type staging of
I recall seeing the Kevin Kline version many years ago, and did not recall the details. Obtaining a copy to view for my project, I was very impressed with the wit and overall quality of the performances. There are a few small issues, such as the fudging of Linda Ronstadt's and Rex Smith's vocal parts (It is clear, whenever Smith sings, that lots of electronic enhancement is being used to bring his voice into the same universe with the other more capable singers, but still he has right delivery and it works well; for Ronstadt, she does very well, but for "Poor Wandering One" her part has been transposed down a bit, probably so that she can manage the highest notes), and the overdubbing of a couple other performer's singing by better singers, but overall the dancing and singing is as good as any I have seen.
The staging is deliberately campy, somewhere between traditional stagecraft and a movie set, and it adds extra charm to the proceedings. There has been some carping about Angela Lansbury's singing, but what she does is in line with the requirements of the role, and is in fact typical of other performances of Ruth's character (I recall the director, during casting of the performance I was in, saying of Ruth, "we don't need a GOOD singer, only a FUNNY singer).
A quick review of the offerings of Pirates on Amazon reveals that the only DVD version of this cast is taken from an outdoor staging in New York (and without Lansbury). It is one of the mysteries of DVD releases that the film version does not exist on on DVD; it certainly one of the best.
History records that Gilbert and Sullivan were personally often at odds
when producing their great comic operettas - no doubt that, if they are
still monitoring this, they are surprised to find both their humour and
their music - despite its limitations in both time and location - still
has a great appeal to audiences throughout much of the world. The music
of course is timeless, but music too evolves and many people today have
no appreciation of the types of lyrics which G & S exploited so
shamelessly. Perhaps the remarkable thing is the wide and continuing
appeal of so many of their works. This film is a movie version of a
100th anniversary Broadway stage production of this operetta in New
York. A review of previous comments show, not unexpectedly, that it has
been adored by numerous G. & S. fans; but that its appeal to those who
are not in this category is much more limited. They also make it clear
that this is a very fine production; and it would be a serious omission
if I did not re-emphasise it is almost a classical example of the way
in which a major stage production should be presented on film, both to
retain the best of the original production and to as fully as possible
exploit the more fluid form of presentation that is possible on the
To your reviewer who reports fears about wearing out her taped version, I would recommend doing what I have done and converting this to a VCD disk that she can play, almost for ever, on her DVD player. It is, I believe, a great film; and my wife and I have also viewed it repeatedly whenever we have been a little "blue", we never fail to feel cheered up afterwards. However we recognise that most members of the contemporary generation would not respond in this way, and that our appreciation will not even be understood by them. We remain thankful that minority tastes can still be satisfied without infringing on the perogatives of the majority, and that in the process of doing so the film will be seen by many who initially have little sympathy with the production, but who find that - as with so many of us in the older generation - they have come to appreciate both its music and its humour.
This movie's great even though it's quite clear that this movie was low budget. Still, why wasn't it a hit? It's wonderful! Linda Ronstadt's Mabel is superb, I wish I could hit those high notes as flawlessly as she does and plus she is so pretty! Who can play the Pirate King as charismatically as Kevin Kline? You just have to love his crazy antics and that voice, oh! It's obvious he has great talent and that Tony Award he won for his portrayal of The Pirate King on Broadway was well-deserved. I wonder if he can still sing and dance... Rex Smith is divine as Frederic; his singing voice is powerful yet has a tender appeal. He is quite talented in his portrayal of a gullible yet loveable Frederic. Angela Lansbury is lovely in her portrayal of the deaf nursemaid and she has such a wonderful voice; it fits the role perfectly. The pirates, the daughters, the policemen, were all wonderful. I especially love the policemen's song-and-dance numbers. Tony Azito's nasal voice and rubber-like movements are perfect as the Sergeant. I have nothing bad to say about this movie, only I wish it were longer and it did not end so soon! See this movie! It's funny, romantic, and has good music.
Gilbert and Sullivan titles, like Shakespeare, are far too easy to do
badly. They can fall into 'traditional' ruts that rapidly drain all the
life out of them. This is why THIS Pirates of Penzance is such a treat.
The production team obviously recognized that the whole story is
absurd, and so they had fun with it. They took their work seriously,
but not (the kiss of death) pompously. The result is wonderful.
HOWEVER: be warned that there IS a DVD of Pirates of Penzance with ALMOST the same cast. It was filmed/taped on Broadway as part of an archival project while the production that inspired the movie was on stage. IT IS SIMPLY AWFUL!
It may well serve its original purpose as a reference for professionals, but the camera work is so bad as to be almost unwatchable. It totally spoils what looks like it may well have been a charming production - at least I assume it was; it inspired a wonderful film, but you just can't tell from the DVD.
I first saw this incarnation of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of
Penzance" at the age of 10, but just recently saw it again when my
school decided to perform it for our annual spring musical. At the age
of 18, I expected that I would find it immature after having liked it
at 10. Needless to say, I was wrong. This is a wonderful adaptation of
a great operetta, and becomes even better with the experience of
Fans of Kevin Kline rejoice! He plays the perfect "Pirate King," the silly leader of a band of pirates who seem to be completely incompetent, if only at piracy. He delivers his lines with precision and, along with David Hatton (Samuel), adds a much needed low bass-baritone to Rex Smith(Frederic) and the rest of the pirates' tenor in the pirate tunes.
The late Tony Azito(Police Sergeant)'s performance is literally unbelievable, as he looks more like a man made out of rubber rather than flesh and bone.
I would recommend this to anyone, especially die hard Gilbert and Sullivan fans.
I am a true G & S Aficionado but this surprised and delighted me. The cast are brilliant but Kevin Kline has the edge. Agile, in great voice, lots of humour and quick, funny bits in his performance (blink and you miss them). His dancing and acrobatics are superb. The police also had me howling with laughter along with their police dogs and the major general romping through the fields with the pirates singing UNDERWATER in the babbling brook has to be a classic. This scene has to be seen to be believed. Bravo, cast !! This should have had a lot more publicity. I would adore seeing it in the large theatre, at least we had "Topsy Turvy" this year. This Pirate is fun for all ages.
I fell in love with Linda Ronstadt the first time I saw this film in
1983. I also fell in love with Angela Lansbury and, perhaps even Kevin
This fantastical, comedic, interpretation of the wonderful Gilbert and Sullivan musical updates the music, the humor, and performance, while actually enhancing the theatrical quality of the original play and leaving the plot, characters, and script largely intact.
The film feels like an exciting, quite silly, and very fun play seen from the best possible angles on an elaborate but very stagy set. The actors intentionally overact - as if their most subtle movements must be seen by an audience in a three story balcony. The music is also somewhat overblown, but absolutely wonderful. Did I mention Linda Ronstadt? Her vocal performance is frankly unbelievable! She might not be much of an actress, but acting talent was really not required for the role of Maybelle.
The story is about Frederick (Rex Smith), a young man who has just left his indenture under the flamboyant, somewhat unsuccessful and soft-hearted 'Pirate King' (Kline) and his band of fairly inoffensive ruffians. Vowing to slay his beloved friend to atone for the sins he probably did not commit during his indenture, Frederick leaves his doomed friends and comes ashore, only to fall immediately in love with Maybelle, but the pirates are only a few steps behind him.
The entire story is told with very minimal dialog and a lot of great music, slapstick, and camp. The voices are cast perfectly, and Kline's physical performance is nothing short of amazing.
What can I say? I've just watched 'Pirates' again after a hiatus of about 18 years, and the old magic came back immediately. I love this film, and heartily recommend it to all. Not everybody will feel as I do, but I can't even attempt objectivity in reviewing this film.
I first saw this film version of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE in a movie theater
in Dayton, OH, the night it premiered. I took a good friend to see it a few
nights later, and went back one more time by myself to see it before it
disappeared after only one week!!
It is true to the spirit of the original, with modern interpretations which would please G&S immensely. I agree the cast is excellent. I don't have time or space to single them out and discuss my thoughts on each actor, but if you are either a G&S fan, a general musical theatre fan, or fans of anyone in the cast, then I encourage you to rent or buy this wonderful film!!
Ah, Gilbert & Sullivan, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!
movie is pure fantastical enjoyment. The cast is an absolute joy,
especially Kevin Kline as the Pirate King. Kline is truly one of the most
over-looked and under-appreciated actors of our time. His ability to
his characters through body language, facial expression, and voice is
unparalleled. He is one of my favourite actors, and he plays the Pirate
King to the hilt -- what a lark!
The vocal talent in this film adaptation of the stage play is phenomenal! I have never heard a more beautiful, powerful, yet sensitive male voice as Rex Smith's, and Linda Ronstadt is, of course, pretty as a picture as Mabel. Angela Lansbury may not have as fabulous a voice as the rest of the cast, but her characterization of Ruth more than makes up for it. Tony Azito absolutely cracks me up as the Chief of Police, those "undaunted men in blue" make me laugh every time.
The one person that everyone seems to forget, however, is the one whose performance I enjoyed even more than Kline's -- and that's saying something. George Rose as the Major-General is perfect, and I never laughed so hard at an individual character as I did when he was tiptoeing through the tulips with the pirates in close pursuit! What a hoot!
This movie is truly a classic, and it's a shame that it's been so overlooked. I finally managed to tape it off the TV one night, since I've never managed to find it on video (other than for rent), and I've watched it so many times, I may have to re-tape it soon. All of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) G&S jokes are a true joy, and the music is pure magic. If you love musicals, you HAVE to see this movie!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Among the dozen of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, The Mikado has, over
the years, been adapted to death, including varieties such as "Jazz
Mikado", "Black Mikado" etc. I'm not sure about the Pirates of
Penzance, but there must have been a few. Even without seeing any
other, however, I'm convinced that the Rex Smith/Linda Ronstadt/Kevin
Kline version must be among the best.
Beautiful melodies have an edge in lending themselves to successful adaptations to a different musical form, but there's a limit. For example, I wouldn't' want to hear Voi Che Sapate from The Marriage of Figaro (to me the most beautiful of Mozart's songs) in any adapted style. Even within Sullivan's abundant supply of lovely songs, a lot just won't fit (e.g. Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes from The Gondoliers).
What worked like magic however is Ronstadt and Smith singing "Ah, leave me not to pine", particularly Smith, whose singing took the song into a new realm of romance not reached before by D'Oyly Carte tenors (yes, I expect some death threats from G&S purists). Ditto for "Oh, is there not one maiden here". The way Smith delivered this song made the swooning of the bevy of beauties absolutely believable. He's the best.
Linda Ronstadt is almost as good. Vocally, she met the demand from the soprano role almost effortlessly. (Wonder though if she is up to The Queen of the Night in Mozart's Magic Flute). Singing aside, her screen personality fit perfectly with that of Mabel.
To people who love this adaptation of Pirates, Kevin Kline is often the reason why they do. Here, the singing is not so demanding, but Kline shines in the acting, having got a role that provided ample opportunities for him to display his comedy talents.
Angela Lansbury did well as Ruth, despite her disadvantage in the singing department. George Rose is Major-General Stanley incarnate.
Finally, though this must have been said many times, the transportation of the trio patter song from Ruddigore was a stroke of ingenuity.
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