It’s part of the charm of Gilbert & Sullivan’s operettas that they can survive almost any degree of updating and parody of the original parody. In 2009, the Huntington Theatre Company offered a “Pirates! (Or, Gilbert and Sullivan Plunder’d)” that shifted “The Pirates of Penzance” from the Cornish coast to the Caribbean and turned the Pirate King into a version of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Now the American Repertory Theater is presenting the Chicago-based Hypocrites in “Pirates of Penzance,” a production in which Robert McLean’s Pirate King wears a big white sailor cap with “KING” across the front, bathing beauties throw beachballs about, and you can, at the Loeb Drama Center, buy tickets for the Promenade area and mingle with the actors.
Visually, this “Pirates,” which runs 80 minutes with a one-minute intermission (only about 25 minutes shorter than the original), is a trip. But the Hypocrites, whose founding artistic director, Sean Graney, is a Saugus native and an Emerson College graduate, stick reasonably close to the story and the songs. As a result of a mistake by his nursemaid, Ruth (Christine Stulik), who in receiving instructions regarding his nautical future misheard “pilot” as “pirate,” young Frederic (Zeke Sulkes) has been apprenticed to a band of dimwitted buccaneers who never attack orphans. Frederic is about to turn 21, so it appears he’ll be able to abandon his scurvy mates, enter a respectable profession, and marry Mabel (Stulik again), the beautiful daughter of Major General Stanley (Matt Kahler). The pirates, however, point out that since Frederic was born on Feb. 29, his 21st birthday won’t fall for another 63 years. And he is, as the operetta’s subtitle reminds us, “The Slave of Duty.”