Cover art for Joseph Papp’s 1980 revival of Pirates of Penzance. *Cover art supplied
Cover art for Joseph Papp’s 1980 revival of Pirates of Penzance. *Cover art supplied

The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Bermuda is going back to its roots and what a swashbuckling show they have in store for us.

Pirates of Penzance is the first G&S production that the Bermuda company has presented since 1996. Set on the golden coast of Cornwall, England, it tells the story of a boy who is inadvertently apprenticed to a band of pirates, led by the Pirate King.

G&S organizers are hoping to capture pirates, pretty ladies and scallywags galore as well as policemen and a Major General to audition for parts in this adventure operetta from May 30 to June 1 at the Bermuda School of Music. The production will be held from October 9 to 18 at the Earl Cameron Theatre at City Hall.

The comic opera by Arthur Sullivan and W S Gilbert first premiered at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, NY, in 1879, and has been revived countless times including the well-known Joseph Papp version starring Kevin Kline (Tony — Best Actor) and Linda Ronstadt (Tony – nominated Best Actress). 

Pirates of Penzance is the second show G&S has staged since John Barnett took over as President of the society from Marjorie Stanton — the first was South Pacific.

Barnett said that he and the Society’s new sub-committee decided to produce a Gilbert & Sullivan show, not least due to popular demand.  

“One of the things I believe was a catalyst with regard to the choice of show was that when I was knocking on doors prior to the AGM last year, 50 per cent of the people asked for us to bring back an original G&S show. That was the impetus. That and the fact that it really is a spectacular show.”

Pirates of Penzance tells the storied tale of Frederic, a young boy who is accidentally apprenticed to a band of hearty pirates by his nurse, Ruth. He loathes the unlawful trade yet is bound to dutifully serve
until his 21st birthday. 

Wracked with guilt for having him indentured, Ruth decides to join Frederic on board and serve as a ‘maid-of-all work’.

One day, the wards of Major-General Stanley happen upon the scene and Frederic is mesmerised by the beauty of one young Mabel. The other girls are seized by the pirates and threatened with immediate marriage. 

The Major can only dissuade them by a ruse — telling them that he himself is an orphan like all the pirates. Approaching his 21st birthday, Frederic hatches a plan to see that justice is done against the pirates but the question is — will his sense of loyalty to his up-bringers overcome him?

Alexander Rosati, a sub-committee member for G&S and old-hand Society actor, said: “We do need to stay true to our roots at a certain level. For a G&S show it is a blockbuster — it has been done successfully on the stage in NY and London and many other places. I saw the Joe Papp version when I was a kid, it was magnificent. Funny, irreverent, not really operatic more operetta- meets-show, but still true to the subject. The music and beauty of G&S shows — it’s witty it can be made very timely, and always a comment on social mores and mannerisms of the time. The art director and producer will tweak it to make it topical and it is still beautiful because the music is just off the charts. You can listen to many G&S show but the top ones are milestones above a lot of things that are done today, musically speaking, because they are so deep and orchestrated.”

Barnett added: “It is because of G&S’s track record that it will resonate here.  G&S produces the best musical theatre shows in Bermuda. We are fortunate of having built up that and Marjorie Stanton is responsible for it.”

Pirates are hot at the moment — following on from the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, followed by a number of pirate movies from Disney, John Malkovich is preparing to play Blackbeard in NBC’s Crossbones alongside Julian Sands, while Starz is bringing out a pirate series called Black Sails.

Rosati added: “Pirates and seafaring is something that historically has always been a part of Bermuda’s history and psyche — it makes what Bermuda is.”

Information on auditions will be posted on soon.