Credit: Rachael Nuckles

The genius of this 139-year-old comic opera lies in how gracefully Gilbert
and Sullivan are able to have their cake and eat it too. Sullivan fills the
show with sugar-a surfeit of sweet, innocent, very hummable tunes—and then
Gilbert sprinkles on lots of salt, barbed lyrics that wittily undercut
Sullivan’s sentimentality.

This charming ambivalence extends to the show’s story and characters.
Frederic, the show’s good-hearted protagonist, wins us over with his overly
correct, very Victorian sense of propriety even as he’s lampooned for the
awful choices he makes for the sake of duty. Likewise, the show’s pirates
are lovable rogues, at once endearing and threatening, bloodthirsty and

The beauty of Saltbox Theatre Collective’s shoestring production lies in
how much they buy into both sides of the show, the side that mocks British
manners and mores and the side that revels in them. Similarly, director
Brian Fruits and vocal music director Charles Brown have done yeoman’s work
coaxing above-average to superb performances from their large, non-Equity
ensemble (the program lists 28 performers in the cast), which proves adept
at both Sullivan’s gorgeous tunes and Gilbert’s complex lyrics (enunciated
clearly enough that we don’t miss a quip).

Not all of the performances are equally fine. Some pirates overplay their
roles, ruining the comedy by trying too hard. But Ryan Smetana and
Alexandria Rust are quite winning as the lovers at the center of the story.
And Brian Bengston is the very model of a perfect major general.   v