Argh! Supporting cast is true treasure in ‘Pirates’

Frederic (Hernandez, left) has to reject the advances of his scheming nurse, Ruth (music education voice major Katelyn Saxton). (Ashley Long / Staff Photographer)

Insert necessary pirate pun here: Avast me hearties, yo ho ho, etc., etc.

While they might be a little bit behind on the pirates craze, TCNJ Lyric Theatre’s production of “The Pirates of Penzance” was a delight for seasoned rum-slingers and landlubbers alike. The show ran from Thursday, Nov. 10 until Sunday, Nov. 13 on the Kendall Hall main stage. Audiences were assured from the beginning that it was going to be a high-sailing good time; even the orchestra had donned pirate hats for the occasion.

The show tells the story of Frederic (junior vocal performance major Sergio Hernandez), a young man about to leave his apprenticeship with the Pirate King (2011 alumnus Raymond McCue) and his merry band of scoundrels. Frederic finds the girl of his dreams in Mabel (played by sophomore Samantha Swartz on the night of this review, Nov. 10), but a technicality over his service obligations to the pirate crew threatens to tear the young lovers apart. Music, hilarity and swashbuckling ensue.

As Frederic, Hernandez lacked the charm so crucial for a male lead. This isn’t to say that he isn’t talented; he, along with the rest of the cast, showed off voices that have obviously been highly trained. Still, there was a spark missing somewhere, and it was hard to relate to Mabel as she swooned over her somewhat bland love.

This may not be entirely Hernandez’s fault: He could have had the voice of Jesus and the sex appeal of George Clooney and still gotten lost amidst the antics of an absolutely superb supporting cast.

McCue was a scream as the swaggering Pirate King, channeling just enough Johnny Depp to give himself a saunter without coming across as a carbon copy. Whether he was plotting against Frederic or dueling with the conductor, he drew laughs from the crowd at every turn. Senior music performance major Ian Highcock, sporting convincing muttonchops, was no less hilarious as the fast-talking Major General.

The Pirate King (McCue, right) threatens Major General (Highcock, left) at swordpoint. (Ashley Long / Staff Photographer)

The real comedic tour-de-force, however, came from senior physics major Nick Vitovitch in his small but impossible-to-upstage role as the Sergeant of Police. Bringing to mind the French guards of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” Vitovitch hammed his way through the show, combining physical slapstick humor with exaggerated facial expressions so that he became almost a living, breathing cartoon character.

Of course, it’s to be expected (or at least one would hope) that the larger roles would be able to hold their own in the spotlight.

What was perhaps most impressive about “Pirates,” however, was the strength of its ensemble. The pirates, policemen and daughters, whether or not they had a named role, threw themselves into the production with so much energy and enthusiasm that they deserved just as much credit for the show as the leads did. It’s rare to see that sort of across-the-board (or across-the-plank) talent in a student production, and, more than anything, “Pirates” deserved a standing ovation for that reason.