PERRY — On December 31, 1879, a new satiric operetta premiered called The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty. This coincided with Thomas Edison’s inaugural public demonstration of incandescent lighting. Since then, audiences have been illuminated by the enduring brilliance of both. Over 144 years later, Heritage Theatre presents a new Broadway version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s timeless classic operetta Pirates of Penzance, which includes musical adaptations by William Elliot. Under the solid direction of co-directors Lindy and Michael Combe, this production transports the audience into a world of swashbuckling pirates and romantic entanglements.

Set on the rocky coast of Cornwall, the story follows the young and naïve Frederic, played by Jensen Bean in the Club Cast which performed on opening night. Frederic was mistakenly apprenticed as a child to a band of soft-hearted pirates by his nursemaid, Ruth (Charline Grigg). Now 21 years old and longing for freedom from his indenture, Frederic leaves the pirate life behind on his 21st birthday to lead a law-abiding life thereafter. However, his plans are complicated when he encounters the beautiful Mabel (Abbigayle Dennis) and falls madly in love with her.

The story is still funny to audiences today because of the enduring themes throughout, but it is also a notoriously difficult score that draws upon the comic opera tradition. The vocal range required is much larger than what is seen in most modern musicals. The sopranos must be real sopranos singing up to an incredible Db6. At the helm of this production were three exceptional leads who brought their characters to life with energy and charisma, while delivering astounding vocal performances.

Jensen Bean, as the earnest and honorable Frederic, offers a captivating performance. His rich tenor voice soared effortlessly through the intricate melodies, imbuing each note with emotion and conviction. From the tender ballad “Oh, Is There Not One Maiden Breast” to his lively patter number with Ruth and the Pirate King, Bean’s performance drew the audience into the character’s journey with every note.

Opposite Bean was Abbigayle Dennis as the radiant Mabel, whose well-trained soprano voice lit up the stage with crystalline clarity and warmth. Dennis was a blend of sweetness and strength, capturing Maybel’s youthful innocence and fiery determination. Her rendition of the aria “Poor Wandering One” was a show-stopping moment as Dennis effortlessly navigated the intricate coloratura passages with grace and precision. It was a performance that truly showcased Dennis’ extraordinary talent.

Rounding out this stellar trio was Ryan Boam as the charismatic Pirate King. His commanding presence and baritone voice filled the stage with swagger and charm. Boam’s Pirate King was funny and endearing as he swashbuckled his way through each scene with energy and panache. While some of his best moments were comedic pantomimes which told the story and delivered the gag without him speaking a word, he also delivered a stellar vocal performance. His rendition of “Oh, Better Far to Live and Die” was a highlight of the production as Boam’s voice filled the space with its rich timbre.

Show closes May 11, 2024.

The exceptional leads are not alone in their brilliant performance. The entire cast came together to create a truly wonderful night at the theater. Each member of the ensemble brought their characters to life with wit, charm, and impeccable comedic timing. Some of the funniest comedic moments came from ensemble member Lucy Matthews who plays one of the General’s daughters. Her facial expressions had me in stitches as she tried to flirt with Fredrick or begrudgingly rebuff him. Matthews fully committed to each moment, and her character was one of my favorites in the show.

From the dastardly pirates to the dainty daughters, each scene was paced with precision. The only exception might be the notoriously difficult song “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” which was sung by AJ Grigg, who had a good tone but seemed to barely hang onto the demanding tempo of the song. A later song with the Pirate King, Frederick, and Ruth (Charline Grigg) also struggled a little during their patter song “My Eyes are Fully Open,” but that can be more easily forgiven when the lyrics explain that “This particularly rapid unintelligible patter isn’t generally heard, and if it is, it doesn’t matter!”

The efforts of the production team matter a great deal to the show. Superior music direction was given by Lindy Combe, which shined especially bright during “Oh, Men of Dark and Dismal Fate” when the Pirate King leads the whole ensemble in a nuanced acapella section that demands precise harmonies and full range from the basses and sopranos.

The stage design by Travis Beecher included riser-like platforms upstage, which helped ensure that the audience could see all the funny little vignettes happening during the ensemble numbers. The set painting by Jess Tarbet was beautiful, and its panels allowed quick scene changes between the whimsical world of pirate ships, rocky cliffs along the shore, and the outside of the General’s home.

The choreography by Kaylee Nelson was well suited to the dancers and restrained so it didn’t interfere with the beautiful vocal performances. A standout dance number was “When the Foeman Bares His Steel” which highlights the Police Sergeant (Quin Geilman) and his men. The style, movement, and even the Sergeant’s funny walk of the number paid homage to Graciela Daniele and Nelson’s choreography in the 1983 film adaptation.

Originally, the production was a satirical operetta, with clever commentary on Victorian ideals of duty and loyalty to the Queen above all else. The caricatures are still absurd, but many of the witty thematic nuances are lost on contemporary audiences. Nevertheless, it is a foundation for the modern musical because the inherent entertainment value of the show remains intact, and Heritage Theatre’s production shows why it is still relevant today. I highly recommend this production for patrons of all ages. From the flawless musical direction and technical execution, every aspect of the show is executed with care, resulting in a seamless, swashbuckling spectacle that will capture the hearts of everyone in the house.


Pirates of Penzance plays at the Heritage Theatre (2505 South Highway 89, Perry) on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 April 19th-May 11th, 2024 with matinees on April 27th & May 4th at 2 PM.  Tickets are $10-16. For more information, visit