On Stage: The Pirates of Penzance

So, I’m sitting on the couch watching — well, nothing since it’s rerun season — when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“Guess what we’re doing tonight.”

“Uh oh, these conversations never end well for me.”

“That’s right. We’re going to the opera!”

“That can’t be right. We went to the opera last year. Twice, in fact.”

“Yes, and we had so much fun that this year I got season tickets! All four shows!”

“Well, Thank God Christine is back in town so she can go with you.”

“Nice try. I read the Report. You like going to the opera. It classes up the place.”

“Curse you for being one of the five people who takes an interest in my writing.”

“Now, shut up and go put on your suit.”

And so it was that Friday night we drove to the Loretto-Hilton Center in Webster Groves for the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic “The Pirates of Penzance.”

I was actually looking forward to this one. It has pirates, after all. Hard to go wrong with pirates. And I vaguely remember watching bits and pieces of it once on PBS with Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt (I wasn’t watching it with Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt, they were on the version of the show that I was watching). As I recall there were some fun songs and so I knew what I was getting into.

The Wife secured for me an aisle seat, which made me very happy. The seats at the  Loretto-Hilton Center are a bit close for someone of my stature. They still have the screens that post the lyrics so you can follow along. I think all theaters that engage in musicals should do that.


“The Pirates of Penzance” is a rollicking — and let’s be honest, silly — show. It’s the kind of pirate musical Monty Python would have written if Monty Python had been around in 1879.

Matthew Plenk stars as Frederic, a young man who spent many years in apprenticeship with a not-too-threatening band of pirates led by The Pirate King *(Bradley Smoak). After turning 21, Frederic is ready to leave the ship, find a young wife and dedicate his life to thwarting piracy. Not sure why Frederic has it out for pirates since the ones he’s spent his formative years with are such fun-loving and kindly fellows. It’s hard to believe they could hurt a fly, and they wouldn’t if it were an orphan fly.

On his own, Fred runs into a passel of young ladies who turn out to be the daughters of Mr. Stanley (Hugh Russell), who himself is the model of a modern major-general. Frederic quickly falls in love with Mabel (Deanna Breiwick), the Major-General’s youngest daughter.

The pirates arrive and decide they want Stanley’s daughters for their brides. Stanley diverts their plan by playing on the pirates’ well-known weakness for orphans. When the truth comes out, including a surprising revelation about Frederic’s birth, there will be much fighting and bloodshed. Well, mostly singing and dancing. It all comes to a completely ridiculous ending, which fits right in with the rest of the story.

The Opera Theatre Saint Louis production is “The Pirates of Penzance” is charming and a great deal of fun. The music is delightful and the wordplay is clever. The sets and costumes are colorful. The actors portray their roles with gusto and pull off some very difficult songs.

Performances of “The Pirates of Penzance” continue through June 29. http://opera-stl.org/


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