NEWS BLOG (WSAU) When we last saw the Wausau Community Theater in the spring they were performing Rent. Many audience members over age 50 struggled with that rock opera. Some left at intermission. Now comes Pirates of Penzance, an equalizer that the audience under 50 will have trouble connecting with.
I wonder if we’ve already seen the last commercial theater productions of Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates is 131 years old, and may be relegated to the non-profit foundations and the specialty companies along with opera and Shakespeare. H.M.S. Pinafore, a better play, makes fun of Britons who put social status above achievement and competency. Pirates of Penzance mocks blind duty to God, Queen and Country. These are British social commentaries; many Americans may simply miss out on the context of the absurdities.
While this operetta would not have been my choice to open the new theater season, the production was well done. The cast gave a crisp performance. The four and five-part melodies were well sung. The chorus of Major Stanley’s daughters were particularly strong in their ensemble numbers.
Bethany Swartz as Maple has the best singing voice in the cast. She was a master of melody when she was starring in The Sound of Music last year. She is equally in command of this more difficult singing role. Swartz’s voice towers over her male co-star Jonathan Schmidt’s. He is a senior at Wausau-West and is ambitiously cast. He has good stage presence, and will grow into other starring roles. Seth Hale, an Antigo High School student, was the most convincing pirate on-stage, and was a strong singer. Jim Hawkins does indeed seem like the very model of a modern major general. Kelly Schoonaert as Maid Ruth was able to find the fun in her role, and fits in very well with the merry band of pirates.
Wausau Community Theater has given us a high quality production that you’ll have to work hard to get the most out of. Was this show a good choice? There are four performances instead of the usual five between now and Sunday, and there were many unfilled seats on Friday night.
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NEWS BLOG (WSAU) In the theater we all have our favorite shows. No one likes everything.
I don’t like much of anything from this year’s Wausau Community Theater season. Gilbert & Sullivan operettas stand the test of time better than anything else that’s 140 years old, but Pirates of Penzance is more of a novelty than a traditional musical-theater production. The audience struggles with the nuance of the play.
The Diary of Anne Frank is an important play. This is a night of theater that I challenge you not to turn away from. You’ll be surprised at the number of heartwarming moments in the play. By all means, see it, but there will be no joy after the show.
Hello Dolly!, set in the turn-of-the-century and produced in 1964, will be difficult for audiences under 50 to connect with. And Hello Dolly! is a cut below many of the golden age musicals of the American theater.
I will reserve judgment on Smokey Joe’s Café, except to say it’s a musical review that is more of an on-stage concert than a full production. It is also intended to be performed with an African-American cast. This is the poor cousin of Dreamgirls, which at least stitches together a superficial story to string the songs together.
A Christmas Carol, the annual holiday show from WCT, is worth making an annual tradition for your family. Just like teenagers may roll their eyes when It’s A Wonderful Life comes on television, the Christmas spirit will wash even the most reluctant audience members before the show is over.
Even if this year’s plays aren’t your favorites, you should go anyway. If we don’t support the arts, they tend to go away.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau