Hackers seem to be having a cultural moment: The new HBO show Our flag means deaththe strange online popularity of sea shanties and the persistence Pirates of the Caribbean franchise are just the most recent examples. In fact, pirates have long been popular in fiction, and among their cultural zeniths is The Penzance Piratesthe timeless Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera that has won its way into the hearts of audiences since 1879.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Chippewa Valley Theater Guild is organizing The Penzance Pirates From May 12 to 15 at the Center Pablo at La Confluence. It’s an ambitious production for the company, which hasn’t tackled Gilbert and Sullivan since a 2006 production of The Mikadobut the cast of Guild is in, says director Nate Plummer.
“We have a very, very talented, very diverse cast that came together to make this show,” he said. Many of them are theater or vocal music majors from UWEC, who bring with them the chops to sing Sullivan’s melodies while making Gilbert’s complicated, comedic words understandable to modern audiences.
“Sometimes we have to stop rehearsing because we’re laughing at things we’ve been watching for weeks,” Plummer said.
The Penzance Pirates is full of everything you’d expect from a 19th century comic opera: dastardly villains, pompous officials, passed out lovers and a strong undercurrent of British duty. In this case, it’s Frederick’s (Henry Malueg) duty to serve as an apprentice pirate until the end of his 21st year, but a long-hidden secret and the love of a major-general’s daughter, Mabel. (Gracie Hutchinson), provide complications. Along with vocal acrobatics (including the beloved song, “I’m the very model of a modern major-general”) and Victorian-era satire, Plummer promises an added layer of audience-pleasing comedy. of the 21st century. Specifically, Pirates is performed as a play within a play, allowing hints of modern musical theater to add to the fun. Expect references to Joseph and the Incredible Technicolor Dream Coat, Cats, Wretchedand more, everything is done to animate the Guild in a playful way on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.
“It may not be a production of Pirates of Penzance for purists,” Plummer said.
The fast, wordy songs and multi-layered narrative make the show a fun challenge for the cast, said William Salinas, who plays the Pirate King. “These are very fluid decisions that I have to make,” he said, referring to his role in the game-in-a-game.
The show will be presented on a pushed stage, with spectators on three sides. The presents challenges for interpreters, who must ensure that they can be seen and heard by everyone. Unlike traditional opera performers, Plummer noted, this cast can’t just “park and bark” during their songs.
Sue Falch, who plays Ruth (a pirate maid and nurse to young Frederick), agreed that the show’s biggest challenge is playing it on a push stage. However, she says, the cast is up for the challenge. “This is possibly the most musically talented cast I’ve been a part of,” said Falch, a veteran of many Guild productions, including their 2006 production of The Mikado.
Plummer, who managed and performed professionally, grew up playing with the CVTG. However, this is his first time conducting for the band, which he finds especially special in its anniversary season.
“To be able to do this for the 40th,” he said, “I think it made it more present in my mind that this is what the Guild does: the Guild has been performing for 40 years, and at through countless obstacles and challenges, the Guild is there to keep theater alive in the Chippewa Valley.
The Penzance Piratespresented by the Chippewa Valley Theater Guild • 7:30 p.m. May 12-14 • 1:30 p.m. May 14-15 • Jamf Theater at Center Pablo at La Confluence, Eau Claire • adults $30, youth $15 • tickets on cvtg. org or (715) 832-7529