Opening night of the Morpheus Theatre’s The Pirates of Penzance was a rollicking success. Gilbert & Sullivan‘s popular and timeless two act comic opera The Pirates of Penzance directed by Tim Elliott and Mike Johnson, is playing at Pumphouse’s Victor Mitchell Theatre from April 18 to May 3, 2014.
The merry gang of pirates invading the secluded Cornwall beaches are not quite what they seem. The soft-hearted, ill-adjusted ship’s crew faces a series of identity crises with unflagging optimism. With riotous scenes of sword-fighting and dance, the musical romp is fun-filled tomfoolery. Morpheus’ high-spirited cast with a mixture of seasoned and novice actors, played their likeable characters with gusto, warmth and energy.
Winnifred (Win) Hume as the sweet, beguiling and determined Mabel, made a sensational entrance with an elaborate and florid trilling in the famous challenging aria “Poor Wandering One.” Win played Mabel in 2008 where she met her future-husband who then played Frederic. Unger and Hume’s impressive performances were lively and cheerful, soulful and sweet.
Carey Unger played the role of the hero, Frederic, the twenty-one-year-old, lovesick but duty-bound pirate apprentice. As he leaves the Heist and his pirate life behind him, he becomes committed to eliminating piracy and convinces a not-too courageous band of police to help. Misunderstandings twist through the plot and he learns that he was never meant to be a pirate but a pilot, an error of pronunciation. Then he learns his 21st birthday will not be celebrated until 1941, not in 1879.
With his strong baritone voice that filled the theatre, James Noonan (Hobson 2014) played the swashbuckling- if sometimes conflicted- Pirate King with bravado.
It was obvious that baritone Allen Crowley enjoyed playing Major General Stanley. Personally, one of the highlights of the evening- which included the entire cast with a strong choral back-up, agile choreography with great comedic timing- was kilt-wearing Crowley’s martial march-hop as he triumphantly and skilfully interpreted the famous fast-paced, tongue-twisting Modern Major-General’s Song. When forced at sword point to continue singing, the Major General “improvised” with Crowley’s own made-in-Canada contemporary pattering parody to the delight of the Pumphouse audience.
In 1879 The Pirates of Penzance‘s world premiere was presented in the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York.
The Morpheus Theatre repeats The Pirates of Penzance every six years, which began with their sold-out November 1996 season performances, followed by productions in April 2002, in March/April 2008 and currently in April/May 2014.
While in Italy on the family’s Grand Tour, the very young Gilbert was kidnapped for several hours then safely returned to his family (Eggold vi). He claimed to remember some of this event and it emerged as themes of identity crisis, children switched at birth and topsy-turvy sagas of duty and love in The Pirates of Penzance and Topsyturveydom (which Morpheus will present in 2015).
Spoiler: In the happy-ever-after ending the noble background of the orphaned pirates is revealed. Queen Victoria makes an entrance and they all become members of the House of Lords, suitable husbands for the daughters of the Major General.
Gilbert, W. S., Sullivan, Arthur. 1879. The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty.
Eggold, Marie. The Pirates of Penzance.” in The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty (Vocal Score). Treharne, Bryceson (Editor). Schirmer, G. pages x=xiii. ISBN:9780793525867
Eggold, Marie. “The Gilbert & Sullivan Partnership.” in The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty (Vocal Score). 1986. Treharne, Bryceson (Editor). Schirmer, G. The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty (Vocal Score). Schirmer, G. Editor. pages vi – ix.
Hobson, Louis. 13 April 2014. “Rollicking dream role for James Noonan in Morpheus’ Pirates of Penzance.” Calgary Sun Calgary, Alberta
When I worked at the National Gallery of Canada as contract art educator in the 1990s I remember viewing an art clip in which the videographer chased a plastic bag in a mundane urban setting as it was picked up by the breeze and eventually carried out over the waters. The sound track consisted of transient noises including the videographer’s breathing and footsteps which increased in intensity when the breeze picked up.
This Noruz film directed by Ramin Bahrani entitled Plastic Bag (2009) expands on this concept into a 20 minute saga narrated by Werner Herzog who gives a dramatic rendering of the journey from its creation, discovery of its purpose, the meaning of its existence, finding love and freedom, then eternal entrapment in the plastic vortex with 100 million plastic objects in the Pacific Ocean.