This comic opera tells the tale of a young pirate apprentice—Frederic—who has recently been released from his servitude to the Pirate King upon meeting his twenty-first birthday. The soft-hearted pirates are sad to see their friend go, though all too eager to send off the boy and his crone of a nursemaid, Ruth. Before leaving, the boy explains to the pirates that their reputation as fearsome buccaneers has dwindled, thanks to the crew’s compassion for anyone claiming to be of an orphan’s, so many people have started lying about being orphans. Frederic, determined to explore the world before him, leaves with high hopes of meeting a pretty young girl, though is assured by Ruth that she is the absolute prettiest to be had. Ruth’s lies are discovered when Frederic meets Mabel, the stunning young daughter of Major-General Stanley, and the two fall in love almost instantaneously. The rest of the pirate crew comes ashore and claims the remnant of the daughters for their own, though the Major-General appeals to their humanity when he crafts the lie of being an orphan. The pirates leave and free everyone, with Mabel and Frederic free to resume their romance. That romance is challenged, however, when the Pirate King comes ashore with news that Frederic is not twenty-one, but indeed, only five years old because of a technicality of having been born on February 29th. The Pirate King points out that Frederic must still serve the remnant of his indentured servitude, or else risk going back on his duty (perhaps the most compelling of motivations for all characters within this story). Stanley feels guilt for having lied about being an orphan, and having confessed his error to Frederic, becomes the subject of a pirate attack. The Pirate King is determined to raid the Major-General’s estate, though are confronted by the police force. With a battle looming, a lifetime of service ahead of him, and the prospect of losing true love, Frederic must make decisions that satisfy his conflicting personal goals and his sense of honor.
The most striking element of the entire production for me was absolutely the scenic design. From the moment I walked into the SCERA’s theater, I absolutely could not tear my eyes away from the set. Set designer Teri Griffin cleverly uses the proscenium to maintain an awareness of the presentational nature of the performance. The rich colors and varying levels created a dynamic world of play, wherein the vibrant characters came to life. Director Kathryn Laycock Little utilized the space well, creating pleasing stage pictures and ensuring the stage didn’t feel too crowded or off-balanced. I appreciated Brodee Ripple’s choreography, which helped illuminate the complicated story line.
Costumes (Brodee Ripple and Kelsey Seaver) and makeup— particularly those for the policemen, added to the caricatured feel of the play, tethering the characters to a world not quite set in reality. The colors were aesthetically pleasing and I found myself enjoying the little nuances of each costume—most noticeably a pair of bright yellow boots sported by a Scottish pirate. Pops of color in contrast to the usually drab Victorian Era lifted the whimsical element of this operetta, a colorful extravaganza that only added to the spectacle of the show. Lighting (Brandon Moss) worked harmoniously with the costumes and setting to create an absolutely beautiful world wherein the actors could play. I cannot emphasize enough how stimulating the visual elements of this show were. The cohesion between these facets were simply wonderful, a real spectacle treat.
While the visual elements of the show itself were absolutely stunning, I found myself lost in the plot. A clear narrative structure was not present, and I missed the build-up to the story’s real climactic moments. The show had a nice ebb-and-flow to it, but I would have perhaps liked to see the story behind it delineated more clearly. The plot itself is confusing enough (as shown by my lengthy synopsis above), and so any help to the audience in understanding the story would have been appreciated. Greater emphasis on diction and enunciation during the songs might have solved some of this problem for me. The singing itself present an interesting challenge, and some of the high schoolers in this show met that challenge. I was particularly impressed with the depth of voice presented by Will Pritchard as The Pirate King and Katya Wagstaff as Ruth, each managing their songs with a strength and charisma that was truly a treat to watch. Their ability to build story and objectives and tactics into their singing is noteable. Michael Allen as Major-General Stanley brought a superbly plucky energy in his performance of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.” I was nodding my head right along with the performers in this delightful song. Other favorites from the evening include “I am a Pirate King,” “When the Foreman Bears His Steel,” and “Now for the Pirate’s Lair.”
Pritchard deserves praise for his performance of The Pirate King. Truly charismatic and bearing a buccaneer’s swagger, he absolutely stole the show. The specificity of lines, combined with a lovely variety of tactics and character choices made him a fun person to watch. Physical choices reflected a Jack Sparrow-esque demeanor, which I thought worked to great effect. I also enjoyed Wagstaff as Ruth, her less-then-charming demeanor working to great effect. I would have loved to see her play up the age of her character more, though all in all, she held her own on the stage. A strong adhesion to her character and fun choices really lent itself to a stand-out character. Kyle Vorkink was quite charming as Frederic, and vulnerability and romanticism of his character expressed quite well for the audience to see. I would have perhaps liked to see more from him as the “straight man” in the play, however, and more boldness in the choices he made. Savannah Liechty brought an absolute sweetness to her role as Mabel; the delicacy of Mable’s persona was well expressed in both demeanor and voice.
The ensemble worked to great effect on the whole, and I appreciated the crispness of the dialogue in time with music and choreography. A particularly favorite moment was the entrance of the police force, bumbling and uncoordinated, but so fun to watch. Though campy and caricatured, the overall acting seemed to fit the style of The Pirates of Penzance and worked in the end. All in all, I was impressed with the level of talent presented by this high school group.