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A merry band of thespians takes on Gilbert and Sullivan
Musical theater, ahoy!
Starting Friday, Island audiences can set sail to experience the supreme silliness and sublime musicality of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” courtesy of more than 30 Island thespians and singers who have been rehearsing the show for months.
The comic opera — a Drama Dock production — is being staged at Bethel Church July 13 to 22, with performances running through Strawberry Festival weekend.
According to the show’s director, Elizabeth Anthony, audiences are in for a treat.
“There is a turn-of-the-century twang to it that is very irreverent,” she said.
“Pirates” — a frothy blend of Gilbert’s unlikely tale of tender-hearted pirates, love-struck maidens and a hapless young hero, combined with Sullivan’s intricate and soaring music — has been a hit ever since it opened in New York City in 1879. In New York alone, there have been more than 40 major revivals of the show, the most well-known of those being a 1980 production starring Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt, Rex Smith and Estelle Parsons. The same cast appeared in a 1983 film version of the opera.
The show even has a storied history on Vashon Island.
It’s the second time “Pirates” has been produced here — Drama Dock mounted the show in 1987, with a decades-younger Elizabeth Anthony at the helm of that production, too. Three other members of that ensemble — Rich Wiley, Sue Weston and Gaye Detzer — are also part of the current production.
For Anthony, directing “Pirates” is a more freewheeling, creative experience this time around.
“Gilbert and Sullivan have now been dead for 100 years, so we can do whatever we want with the show,” she said with a laugh. “I’m a lot more confident now.”
Anthony said that because the show isn’t copyrighted, she’s taken a few liberties with the lyrics.
“Gilbert was very contemporary, so I have felt free to rewrite some stuff,” she said. “It’s sung so fast anyway, who cares?”
Despite Anthony’s seemingly cavalier pose, she brings a wealth of experience and a deep reverence for Gilbert and Sullivan to the show.
She attended Gilbert and Sullivan shows throughout her youth, she said, and upon turning 18 became a member of the Oberlin College Gilbert & Sullivan Players, one of the oldest standing Gilbert and Sullivan troupes in the country. She went on to be a featured player in the troupe’s summer stock productions on Cape Cod.
For decades, Anthony has been a mainstay of the Island’s theater community, directing, appearing in and producing many plays. Her most recent foray into Gilbert and Sullivan was as an advisor to a recent Vashon Island Youth Chorus production of “Pinafore Pirates.”
Wiley, who played the Pirate King in the 1987 production and this time is cast as Major General Stanley, said that Vashon’s theater community has been lucky to have an artist of Anthony’s caliber around for so many years.
“She’s an Island treasure,” he said.
Wiley is looking forward to delivering one of the most famous songs in the show, “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General,” a patter song full of tongue-twisting lyrics.
The whole show, he says, is a delight.
“It’s so witty and there is something new every time you hear it,” he said.
Wiley will be joined on stage by a constellation of Island stars. Joe Farmer, an accomplished tenor who has appeared in Vashon Opera productions, is playing the role of Frederic, the love-struck hero of the show. His love interest, Mabel, is played by Julea Gardener, a soprano with a soaring voice.
Gordon Millar will bring a Scottish brogue to the role of the Pirate King, and Lissy Nichols, an accomplished young actress, will play against type as Frederic’s lusty old nurse Ruth.
Rounding out the cast is a chorus filled with members of Drama Dock, Vashon Island Chorale, Vashon Opera, Drama Dock Youth Initiative and Vashon Island Youth Chorus. They’ll play a motley crew of pirates, maidens, urchins and policemen.
“It’s a cast of friends,” said Anthony, who said she hated to single out any particular favorites in the cast. “These are people who are very dear to me.”
“Pirates of Penzance” will run from July 13 to 22. Shows will be at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Thursday, and at 4 p.m. on Sundays, at Bethel Church. Tickets, ranging in price from $20 to $7.50, depending on age and status as a Drama Dock member, are on sale at www.brownpapertickets.com and the Vashon Bookshop.