It’s a Merry Bunch of Pirates in Actors Theatre’s “Penzance”

“The Pirates of Penzance” is playing at Actors Theatre through Feb. 4. For tickets, click here.

At first, it seemed I’d gone to a play and a Laua party had broken out. It’s clear from the moment you step into the cozy Bingham Theatre that this Actors production is all about having a good time, as members of the Chicago-based troupe The Hypocrites wander along singing and tossing beach balls. I caught one right in my beer as I took my seat.

“Pirates” is a comic opera written by Gilbert and Sullivan first performed some 135 years ago.  The plot concerns involves a band of tender-hearted pirates who aren’t successful in their pirating, in part because they always allow victims to get away if they say they’re orphans. There’s a Major-General who sings a famed song, and our hero Frederic is supposed to complete his pirate apprenticeship on his 21st birthday, but finds out that since he was born in a leap year on Feb. 29, he won’t be having that birthday for a long time. He believes his love interest, Mabel, to be beautiful because he’s seen no other women.

So it’s not a modern tale, but this version of “Pirates” isn’t about that old story as much as the spectacle of merry pirates bounding around playing all sorts of instruments, including guitar, ukelele, harmonica, clarinet and even an accordion. They’re dressed in frat party pirate-wear, and constantly interact with the audience. There are a limited number of “Promenade” tickets. If you get one of these, don’t get comfortable, as you’re placed on the actual set and will be asked frequently to move around to stay out of the way of the actors’ choreography.

You don’t go to see “Pirates” as much as you go to experience 80 minutes of  frenzied song and action. You will leave smiling.