“Pirates of Penzance,” like many other Gilbert & Sullivan productions, is no typical opera. This isn’t a dark, heart-wrenching tragedy nor do the performers sing in Italian. Instead, it is a show of pure, comic fun.
“It is one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular and most widely performed works,” director Sara J. Libenson ’10 says. “It is different from other Gilbert and Sullivan operas, for others are known for biting satires and their criticism of bourgeoisie ideals. But this is nothing like that. Really it is just a comedy, and it is just hilarious—a rollicking good time.”
This latest production by the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players follows the story of Frederic (Benjamin J. Nelson ’11), a young pirate apprentice who dreams of when he can be free from his pirate trade. In the opening scenes of the play, he meets the beautiful Mabel (Bridget Haile ’11) and, after falling in love with her, promises to marry her on completing his apprenticeship. But to the distress of the fated lovers, the Pirate King (Ilan J. Caplan ’10) informs Frederic that he will be released from his adventures not when he turns 21, but on his 21st birthday.
However, the catch is that since his birthday is on February 29, a leap year, this technicality forces him not only to serve his apprenticeship for another 63 years, but also to help the Pirate King force Mabel into marriage.
Although known for its unadulterated comedy, stage manager Chappell L.W. Sargent ’12 says that “Pirates” does intersperse poignant moments of real emotion.
“It is more than just jokes. It has a compelling narrative,” Sargent says. “Productions need moments of gravity to ground them. Sara has directed very emotional scenes which come in the middle of the light-hearted action.”
Libenson herself says that she wants the audience to feel connected to whatever is happening on the stage, whether it is with the most dramatic scene of the play or some of its more light-hearted situations.
“You need to care. If you don’t care, you are laughing at them,” she says. “We stop the action for the main couple to have a truly emotional moment, but then as soon as the scene is over we are right back into the action. We don’t want [the emotions] to hold down the comedy.”
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