Gilbert & Sullivan: Broadway Theatre Archive
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Gilbert and Sullivan's raucous operatic tale is captured in all it's fun and glory in this production. Kevin Kline ( A Fish Called Wanda) sparkles as the swashbuckling and libidinous Pirate King while Linda Ronstandt plays the lovely and virginal Mabel.
This Pirates of Penzance is primarily a historical document, part of the Broadway Theater Archive television series. It presents, with some inevitable, tiny technical shortcomings, a live 1980 performance in Central Park, not the 1983 movie of the same name that also starred Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline. Those who remember that film, which had the benefit of retakes and editing, a lavish production budget, and the spaciousness of a Hollywood studio, may find this video less polished. On its own terms, it is nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable.
Advantages of this live performance include a sense of spontaneity, and the feeling of being part of a theatrical audience that is visibly and audibly having a very good time. The (reduced and partly electronic) orchestra is also visible; scenery is minimal; the onstage pirate boat, excellent for a live production, is no match for what a movie can offer. The voices are uneven, and some of them evoke Broadway more than London. But the performance is well styled, lively, and energetic. Gilbert and Sullivan's witty sparkle comes through clearly. --Joe McLellan
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BUT. As good as the movie is, the performance is better. A lot of extra gags the movie added are cut, making for more streamlined humor. There are also some original songs the movie cut ("How Beautifully Blue the Sky", "When Love is Alive and Hope is Dead"), and others that the movie slims down ("When a Felon's Not Engaged in His Employment"). Kline and Ronsdtadt are as excellent as in the movie, but Rex Smith is a more believable babe-in-arms, and George Rose's performance is more spontaneous and not quite as overblown. Patricia Routledge beats out Angela Lansbury's Ruth.
Yes, its a stage performance, but that's what makes it great. This was meant to be performed. Part of the problem with the movie is that the actors never seem to know quite which way to face--they always act like they're on a stage, even as the camera moves around them. Here, that's part of the charm. Kline fights with the conductor. The orchestra pit gets in the way of a particular scene. You can hear and see the audience screaming with laughter at lines.
So yes, the sound quality is bad, and it's not cut to be a movie. But it's a stupendous adaptation, and you should watch it.
Don't believe the pettyfogging and nitpicking gripes from others about iffy colour balance and less-than-digital audio quality. For goodness sake, this was shot 'live' after minimal camera rehearsal time on analogue Edicons fed to a veteran outside-broadcast truck with pictures and audio captured on-the-fly by a production team that was in that long-gone era at top of its game.
The staging and technical presentation of this show on the night was world-class. And the performers - soloists, chorus and orchestra - breathtaking. The TV capture, despite the technical limitations of picture and sound quality prevailing at that time, was first rate. The DVD presentation is worth every penny of the asking price and far more satisfying artistically than the 'official' recording. And as somebody else said in their review - what about Patricia Routledges' singing - AND that virtuoso xylo player !!