Pop-infused ‘Pirates’ finds new legs at the Huntington

Nowadays you’d have to keelhaul most young playgoers to get them to see an “operetta.” But since a Gilbert and Sullivan classic has been repackaged as a rollicking musical, audiences are going overboard in praising the Huntington Theatre Company’s season-closer.

“Pirates! (or, Gilbert and Sullivan Plunder’d) “scrapes all the barnacles off “The Pirates of Penzance,” moving the setting from Cornwall to the Caribbean, more familiar waters to audiences, awash with recent buccaneer movies. The Pirate King (Steve Kazee) is transformed into a Captain Jack Sparrow look-alike, and the wrinkled nursemaid Ruth (Cady Huffman) is made over into a sexy Geena Davis high-seas hussy.

Co-Conceivers Gordon Greenberg, Nell Benjamin and John McDaniel have streamlined and updated the show in many ways, starting with the music.

They cut out quite a few numbers and reprises and presented relatively short versions of even the most popular of the remaining songs. A couple of second act tunes were orchestrated for steel drums and calypso rhythms.

The adaptors also shanghaied catchy numbers from other G& S shows. Ed Dixon does such a great job with his patter song “ I Am the Very Model of a Modern General” at the end of Act One, that revisers borrowed “The Nightmare” from “Iolanthe” so he could do it all over again at the top of Act Two.

The original G &S scripts were all peppered with sly contemporary pop references. So Benjamin (of “Legally Blonde” fame) felt free to revamp the book and lyrics to give the satire a more contemporary feel, though it’s pretty obvious where Gilbert’s light wit leaves off and her more ponderous efforts begin.

The usually staid operetta blocking gives way to Denis Jones’ exuberant choreography (recalling the athletic “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”) and lots of comic horseplay and fighting.

Farah Alvin (reprising her role as Mabel from both previous incarnations of this production) and Anderson Davis as Frederic have exceptional strong voices and manage to play the goofy comedy and romance in traditional style.

Purists, then, can take heart that those spectators who only cautiously waded in for “Pirates!” will be so captivated by the experience that they just might take the plunge and see an un-updated G&S next time.

At Boston University Theatre through June 14.



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