New York choreographer Daryl Gray has redeemed himself with his latest version of his two-act "Pirates! The Ballet," delivered skillfully, energetically and comically Friday night by Queensland Ballet in a packed-to-the-hilt Lied Center.
In its first coming, the audience had to rely on the dancers' exaggerated, near farcical movements to reveal the storyline of Gilbert and Sullivan's tried-and-true operetta "Pirates of Penzance." But Gray's reworking of the two-hour show now serves up a triple-threat -- bold and sometimes quirky choreography, a quintet of refined singers and the flawless Kansas City Symphony.
"Pirates!" tells the story of Frederic, who was supposed to be apprenticed to become a pilot but was instead hooked up with pirates by his hard-of-hearing nurse. He hates being a pirate and wants to leave the band, especially after eying the beautiful Mabel. Of course, the young lovers end up together when the curtain falls, but not until the audience is treated to a chorus line of constables resembling wobbly-legged Keystone Cops, a bevy of girls who leap and prance en pointe and an ornery horde of pirouetting pirates.
From his cocky entrance in Act I to his final lunge in the finale, Anthony Lewis gives a powerful performance as the chest-baring, swashbuckling Pirate King. His toe points seemed to stretch all the way back home to his native Australia.
Shane Weatherby and Kimberley Davis are stunning as the young lovers. A spell-binding pas de deux in the second act showed off well-positioned, unfaltering lifts and graceful classical turns.
Gray has a flair for mixing steps that span centuries. In this "Pirates!," the choreography includes the usual ballet fare with hints of Gene Kelly's tap, the French cancan, ballroom's box step, Michael Jackson's moon walk and the 1960's swim.
And as a result, the innovative choreographer has made ballet and opera accessible to and decipherable by everyone. Bravo!