‘Pirates’ take over the island this weekend
The Jamestown Community Chorus will present a concert version of “The Pirates of Penzance” this weekend at the Central Baptist Church. The two productions will take place on Saturday, March 5 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 6 at 3 p.m.
The chorus production of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera is directed by B.J. Whitehouse, and cast members include Ethan Rosser as Frederic, May Morris as Ruth, Mike Smith as the Sergeant of Police and Terry Horsley in the role of the Pirate King.
In all, 52 members of the chorus will be participating in the show, and Janet Grant, who has been the chorus accompanist since 1989, will join them.
Whitehouse has loved Gilbert and Sullivan since the days when he was studying for his music degree. When he learned that the Rogers and Hammerstein Library would not license a concert version of his original choice, “South Pacific,” he quickly turned to “The Pirates of Penzance” because he felt that the opera’s nautical themes made it a perfect fit for the island community of Jamestown.
Gilbert and Sullivan operas are not new to the chorus. A production of “H.M.S. Pinafore” was presented 17 years ago.
“The Pirates of Penzance” is the tale of Frederic, a 21-year-old who has just been released from his apprenticeship with a band of gentle pirates. His hard-of-hearing nursemaid placed him with the pirates as a child when she misheard his father’s instructions to apprentice him to the pilot of a ship.
Despite his fondness for the tenderhearted pirates, Frederic feels duty-bound to destroy them and atone for his life of piracy.
Frederic soon meets and falls in love with Mabel, played by Bethany Clarke. Mable is the daughter of Major General Stanley. Comic complications ensue involving the pirates, the police, Major General Stanley and the discovery of the true nature of Frederic’s apprenticeship.
The character of Major General Stanley – portrayed by Robert Morton-Ranney – was widely thought at the time to be a caricature of the popular general, Sir Garnet Wolseley. Michael Ainger, biographer of Gilbert and Sullivan, feels that the character was instead based on General Henry Turner, the uncle of Gilbert’s wife. Gilbert did not like the decidedly old school Turner. “The Major General’s Song” is not only the most well known song in the show, it is one of the most beloved songs in the entire Gilbert and Sullivan catalog.
Librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan collaborated on 14 comic operas between 1871 and 1896. “The Pirates of Penzance” was their fifth collaboration, and it premiered at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City on Dec. 31, 1879, where it was well received by audiences and critics.
“The Pirates of Penzance” was the only Gilbert and Sullivan opera to have its official premiere in the United States; at the time, no copyright protection was afforded to foreigners, and the duo was English.
The premiere was a reaction to the numerous un-credited productions of their previous work, “H.M.S. Pinafore.” After becoming a hit in London, unauthorized performances of the opera started taking place in the United State, for which no royalties were paid.
The title of the new work was something of a jab at those who had staged the unauthorized productions of “H.M.S. Pinafore.” By staging their own production of “The Pirates of Penzance” in New York, Gilbert and Sullivan were able to realize the direct profits from the initial production, as well as from the touring companies that they created in the states.
“The Pirates of Penzance” remains extremely popular with Gilbert and Sullivan fans. Recent revivals include a 1981 Joseph Papp production, which starred Linda Ronstadt, Rex Smith and Kevin Kline, and ran for 787 performances on Broadway. The Papp production was made into a film in 1983 with most of the Broadway cast reprising their roles.
Rita Murray founded the Jamestown Community Chorus in 1949, in conjunction with a local women’s group called the Exchange of Topics and Crafts Club. Since that time, approximately 800 people have sung for the chorus, under four directors. Whitehouse has been the chorus director since 1989.
The chorus welcomes all singers for its winter and spring shows, and there is appearances at various events each year as well. No auditions are held. About half of the members are from Jamestown, while others come from nearby communities.
In addition to this year’s seasonal shows, the chorus has scheduled an additional production for early May, when they will present a salute to Broadway. The music will range from classic show tunes by composers like Cole Porter, to more contemporary songs from shows like “Rent” and “Wicked.”
Tickets for the production of “The Pirates of Penzance” are $10 for adults and $7 for seniors and students. They can be purchased at Jamestown Hardware, Baker’s Pharmacy and the Secret Garden. Tickets can also be purchased from any chorus member and will be available at the door.