- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2009

The sinking of the Titanic might not immediately spring to mind as fertile fodder for comedy, but the musical “Pluck” finds mirth in the maritime disaster.

A British import and Edinburgh Fringe Festival crowd-pleaser, “Pluck” combines slapstick and sonatas in a whimsical tribute to the musicians who — as legend has it — bravely played on and went down with the massive ship. Of course, in this irreverent version, they perform an encore underwater, crawling crablike along the ocean floor while playing Erik Satie’s “Gnossiennes No. 1.”

Violinist Adrian Garratt, violist Jon Regan and cellist Sian Kadifachi are proficient musicians as well as agile practitioners of the physical, silent-movie style of comedy that would have been in vogue around 1912, when the Titanic made its ill-fated journey. A screen resembling a porthole in the middle of the stage even shows selected scenes (some with old-fashioned title cards) ranging from actual Titanic footage to hilarious silent melodramas, a clever use of silhouettes and a fantasy sequence imagining a sunnier fate for the hapless musicians.

If the Marx Brothers had gone to Juilliard, this might have been the type of show they would have put on. Or, if your experience of classical music has been a formal affair, you’ll find no such limitations here. The trio performs everything from Mozart and Rossini to Scott Joplin rags while arguing, flirting, playing cards (and cheating), juggling and, most adroitly, setting up wooden deck chairs. With comedy and classical music, it’s all in the timing. Some of it is off in the skits, however, and a recurring sight gag featuring Mr. Peanut wears thin after awhile.

After the Titanic hits the gigantic iceberg, “Pluck” depicts the musicians listing to the side in perfect concert with a swaying chandelier — a moment both classy and cheeky. The ensuing mayhem as the passengers hit the lifeboats is set to “Waltz of the Flowers” from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.”

Yet near the show’s end, the mood deepens as the musicians play a stately and affecting “Nearer My God to Thee,” never abandoning their instruments or their station on the doomed ship. Zaniness and light entertainment rule “Pluck,” but it also strikes a grace note in its apt homage to underpaid and unsung musicians everywhere.

★★★½

WHAT: “Pluck — The Titanic Show”

WHERE: Bethesda Theatre, 7719 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Through March 1.

TICKETS: $25 to $50

PHONE: 800/551-7328

WEB SITE: www.bethesdatheatre.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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