The plot of The Pirates of Penzance, like all G&S shows, is a silly thing that allows them to do their thing. In this case, young Frederic was mistakenly apprenticed to pirates by his nursemaid Ruth, instead of pilots as his family suggested. Contracted to serve through his 21st birthday, he is now free to leave piracy and live a more noble life. Which is to be accomplished by marrying a noble woman, to which her Major General father objects. But before this can happen, the Pirate King tells Frederic that because he was born on leap day, he's technically only had five birthdays, and is duty bound to continue the pirate trade. The pirates attack the Major General, but they're not the most successful pirates, and after some antics and hijinks, peace is restored in time for a happy ending.
|the cast of The Pirates of Penzance (photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)|
I re-watched the 1983 film adaptation (available in its entirely on YouTube), which included most of the Broadway cast, this week. And although I still absolutely love it, there are some parts that are hard to watch in 2018. A big part of the plot involves the pirates marrying the Major General's daughters "against our wills, Papa, against our wills!" There's also the bit about Frederic agreeing to marry his childhood nurse Ruth (ew) until he realizes she's unattractive and old at 47. Lyrics have been changed, so now Ruth is not the poor pitiful old woman, but tells Frederic not every woman wants to marry him, and she loves him like a son. The daughters now cry "without our consent, Papa, without our consent," and the Major General objects not to having pirates as sons-in-law, but to having men who grab women without their consent as sons-in-law (or presidents). The historical context about the women important to the success of Gilbert and Sullivan, the slight lyric changes, and the casting all make this Pirates much more palatable in today's world, while still maintaining all of the fun.
|the police on patrol (photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)|
As the somewhat dimwitted tenor playing Frederic, Max Wojtanowicz is so charming and funny, highlighted by a moment of audience contact in Frederic's big song of seduction. Alice McGlave is lovely as Mabel, the daughter who gives her consent to marry Frederic, and the two sound beautiful together and share a sweet chemistry. The always entertaining Zach Garcia is the proud librettist Gilbert, who takes on multiple roles in the show-within-a-show, and Elisa Pluhar is a great Ruth (reuniting Officer Lockstock and Little Sally!). Completing the hard-working ensemble are Charles H. Eaton, Elizabeth Hawkinson, and Victoria Price, playing various pirates, cops, daughters, and queens.
|the pirate trio: King (Bradley Greenwald), Apprentice|
(Max Wojtanowicz), and Nursemaid (Elisa Pluhar)
(photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)
This show is proof that classic pieces we love, despite some outdated parts, can be updated to feel fresh, modern, relevant, and still worthy of doing. As I tweeted during intermission, I didn't think I could love Pirates more, until I saw this ingeniously deconstructed and re-imagined version. If you're a Gilbert and Sullivan fan you won't want to miss this delightful new interpretation, and if you're not familiar, this show is a great introduction to their genius in an accessible way.
The Pirates of Penzance continues through March 25, click here for more info and tickets.