Charles Veley’s very clever and absolutely charming musical “The Pirates of Finance” opened last night in at the Signature Theater on W 42nd St, as one of 24 different shows in this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival.
The show tells the story of young Frederick Freemarket (Preston Ellis) who inherits his uncle’s financial business just in time to deal with derivatives and the market crash, all set to melodies from 8 (I think) of Gilbert and Sullivan’s best-loved operettas.
This is not a review, exactly, because I and a number of my friends were members of the original East Coast cast when this show premiered in Wilton co-produced by Troupers Light Opera and the Wilton Playshop and when in revised form it was directed by Gary Slavin and taken to the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Gettysburg 2 summers ago. Originally named “G&S on Wall Street,” there has been a lot of evolution between these two versions, and Veley has been working with Slavin to shape and polish this show ever since, changing, adding and cutting songs with wild abandon.
This cast of a dozen professional singer/actors under music direction of Brenna Sage (and 4 piece band) and directed and choreographed by Gary Slavin is the delightful result. The smallish Griffin Jewel Box theater space (about 200 seats) was packed for last night’s opening and the audience seemed to love just about all 25 numbers.
While Veley’s original versions stuck quite close to Sullivan’s style, but with clever new words, this version took the tunes in new directions. For example when villain Geoffrey Behemoth (Christopher DeAngelis) enters, singing an ode to himself to the tune of the Modern Major General song, he puts on dark glasses for the second verse and sings it in a rap style.
And perhaps most delightful, Behemoth’s pretty young analyst assistants (April, May and June) (Sydney Ransom, Janice Landry and Lynn Craig) sing “We can swagger, we can smolder” to the tune of “Tripping hither” from Iolanthe, they sing it in close harmony doo-wop style, but pretty much with Sullivan’s harmonies.
Slavin’s clever choreography is much in evidence when in Act II, the three analysts and the three boys (Hewey, Dewey and Louie) (Carter Lynch, David Macaluso and Alex Krasser) return in dark suits and dark glasses as the SEC investigators and dance a wild boogie to a snippet from Pirates.
The plot of the story, such as it is, involves Behemoth trying to take over young Freemarket’s company and the new ending is even sillier than Veley’s first version, and worthy of Gilbert’s Topsy-Turveydom.
We particularly enjoyed Jacob Thompson as the geeky Bill Brilliant, Heather Lundstedt as the goofy and sexy Elsie, Amber Nicole Guest as Prudence, the HR chief and Deborah Jean Templin as Clara, the CFO. And Preston Ellis carries the show as young Frederick.
It’s fun to pick out the G&S melodies as they unspool: we identified songs from The Mikado, Pirates, Pinafore, Sorcerer, Princess Ida, Iolanthe, Gondoliers, and Ruddigore.
This terrific, funny show runs for four more performances, Tuesday July 16 at 5pm, Thursday July 18 at 5 and 9 pm and Saturday July 20 at 9 pm. Get your tickets now. It’s really an excellent show!