Matt Kahler as the Major-General and the cast of The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance entertain the crowd at Berkeley Rep with their immersive rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s topsy-turvy world. Photo:

The Hypocrites, an ebullient, talented young musical troupe from Chicago is storming the beaches of Berkeley Rep (and Penzance) in their loving send-up of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. These performers are so gifted in both voice and acting that they could probably perform the operetta Pirates of Penzance as written by Gilbert and Sullivan in 1879. Instead, director and adapter Sean Graney with co-adapter Kevin O’Donnell have spoofed, shortened (to 80 minutes) and transformed it into a modern musical version, using many of the melodies and lyrics of the original songs.

Upon entering the Rep’s new Osher Studio on Center Street, one is immersed in the joyous, colorful, tuneful, noisy world of the Hypocrites. Each member of the cast wears a silly costume, and sings, jumps, grins, claps, throws beach balls, engages the audience and plays an instrument (including banjos, guitars, clarinet and a saw). If you have booked “promenade seating,” you may be sitting on a bench or in the kiddie pools with the yellow rubber duckies. And be alert, you may be asked to move out of the way when the players need your seat during the performance. All part of the fun.

L to r: Zeke Sulkes as Frederick, Shawn Pfaustch as the Pirate King, and Christine Stulik as Ruth in The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance at Berkeley Rep. Photo:

The plot takes place in Penzance, on the Cornwall Coast, and revolves around 21-year old Frederick who is just completing the end of his indentured apprenticeship to a gallant, though inept band of pirates. Since the pirates are all orphans, they allow their victims to go free if the victims are also orphans. Word has gotten around about the pirates’ soft spot, so that all their prey claim to be orphans — not very lucrative for the pirates.

Frederick, who has never seen a woman except for his former nursemaid Ruth, thinks that she is beautiful, until he meets and instantly falls in love with Mabel, the daughter of Major-General Stanley. Matt Kahler, as the Major-General does a masterful job singing the much-parodied “I am the very model of a modern Major-General.”

Frederic soon learns that he was born on February 29th, leap day, and so, he only has an official birthday every four years. Since his indenture specifies that he remain apprenticed to the pirates until his 21st birthday, he must serve for another 63 years. Burdened with an exaggerated and intense sense of duty, Frederick first feels bound to lead the police to the pirates’ lair when he thinks that he is no longer one of them, but then feels obliged to remain a pirate because of the terms of his indenture. The turnabouts of Frederick’s exercise of what he perceives to be his duty continue to occur throughout the performance, each one funnier than the preceding one. The playful production continues in this charmingly silly vein until its happy conclusion prompted by the pirates’ loyalty to Queen Victoria.

All the members of the Hypocrites belt out Gilbert and Sullivan tunes with clear, loud voices and lots of heart. The leads, Zeke Sulkes as Frederick, Shawn Pfaustch as the Pirate King, Matt Kahler, as the Major-General and Christine Stulik as Ruth and Mabel, are particularly skilled. They put a tremendous amount of energy into their performances, such that the audience can’t help but be carried along. This translates into a cheery carefree evening to enjoy with friends, family and children of all ages.

The Pirates of Penzance is playing at Berkeley Rep’s Osher Studio at 2055 Center St. through Dec. 20, 2015. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Berkeley Rep online.

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Emily S. Mendel

Freelancer Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although now a 37-year East Bay resident), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...