The Pirates of Penzance

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The idea of forcing the ultra-British “Pirates of Penzance” into a “Star Wars”-style space setting seems like a case of changing something just for the sake of changing it. (People do it all the time with Shakespeare, setting “Hamlet” in a prison camp, or “Taming of the Shrew” in a button factory, or whatever.)

But while UVSC’s production does indeed seem strained at times — calling a sword a “light saber” once, and then forgetting to change the other “sword” references, for example — it all seems OK when you realize that whatever Gilbert and Sullivan were satirizing, it has little relevance now, and the show exists today mainly as a silly trifle full of fun rhymes and catchy tunes. Why not mess around with it? This ain’t exactly Shakespeare, after all.

The story is of a pirate apprentice named Frederic (Mark Stringham) who, on his 21st birthday, has completed his indentured servitude and is free to join civilized society. This dismays his soft-hearted pirate friends, led by their Pirate King (Jaelan Petrie), but they let him go, sending his nanny, Ruth (Courtney Young), with him.

Soon Frederic happens upon a group of lovely young ladies, and he falls in love with the skinniest one, Mabel (Brittany Wiscombe). His pirate buddies come along and, in a matter of seconds, fall in love with the other girls. They are the daughters of a Major General (Aaron DeJesus), who uses The Force to convince the pirates that he’s an orphan — someone to be pitied, not someone to leave lonely by stealing his daughters. (This is a rare instance of the “Star Wars” thing actually working.) When the pirates find out he’s not really an orphan, though, that’s when the fun begins!

It’s a daft little show, directed by D. Terry Petrie, with Doc Taylor directing the music and Kathie Debenham taking care of the often-elaborate, always-amusing choreography. The show starts out slowly, with too much exaggerated unison movement, but it eventually grows into itself.

Everyone performs with aplomb, but a few stand out. Stringham and Wiscombe are a handsome stage couple, he with a sweet, strong singing voice and she with an impossibly high (but not operatic) soprano. Jaelan Petrie is great as the Pirate King, too, singing with perhaps better enunciation than anyone, and earning more than a few laughs, too. Young, in the underappreciated role of Ruth, proves herself yet again to be a fine character actress. And DeJesus’s aged Major General — looking like a cross between Obi-Wan Kenobi, the evil emperor and Yoda — is a jolly little fellow, positively Dumbledorian, with a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step. It’s obvious he’s having fun with the show; you will, too, once you get used to it.

The adjective "Dumbledorian" is a reference to Prof. Dumbledore, the headmaster at the Hogwart's school for young wizards in the "Harry Potter" books. The character in "Pirates" looked very much the way I picture the old guy. This was the first in what will probably be several "Harry Potter" references, as it was around this time that I was becoming enchanted by the books and their characters.

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