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Monday, January 24, 2011

The Pirates of Penzance

This week I'm playing in the pit for a run of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance at my alma mater. The pit is a combination of students and professionals, including a few alumni freelancers such as myself. The students in the cast are doing a great job and I'm enjoying the experience more than I would the average pit orchestra gig - my parents (and perhaps my Dad in particular) had a penchant for Gilbert and Sullivan and I was raised with frequent viewings of the Kevin Kline/Rex Smith/George Rose/Linda Ronstadt/Angela Lansbury movie. Even all these years later (it's been probably fifteen years since I've seen that old VHS tape) I'm surprised to find that I remember nearly every word and every note.

Who can forget this comical dialogue? [read it with a British accent to properly understand the ensuing confusion]

General: Tell me, have you ever known what it is to be an orphan?
Pirates: Oh, dash it all!
King: Here we are again!
General: I ask you, have you ever known what it is to be an orphan?
King: Often!
General: Yes, orphan. Have you ever known what it is to be one?
King: I say, often.
Pirates: Often, often, often.
General: I don’t think we quite understand one another. I ask you, have you ever known what it is to be an orphan, and you say “orphan.” As I understand you, you are merely repeating the word “orphan” to show that you understand me.
King: I didn’t repeat the word often.
General: Pardon me, you did indeed.
King: I only repeated it once.
General: True, but you repeated it.
King: But not often.
GeneralI Stop! I think I see where we are getting confused. When you said “orphan,” did you mean “orphan” – a person who has lost his parents, or “often,” frequently?
King: Ah! I beg pardon – I see what you mean – frequently.
General: Ah! you said "often," frequently.
King: No, only once.
General: Exactly – you said “often,” frequently, only once!

This afternoon in a rehearsal with the children's orchestra I conduct, I mentioned to the kids that I was off to a rehearsal for "The Pirates of Penzance" immediately following our little rehearsal. I asked them if any of them had seen or heard of the show, and a dozen little heads shook from side to side. A young violinist named Maria asked, "Do you mean Pirates of the Caribbean? I've seen that!" I laughed and said, "No... have you heard of Gilbert and Sullivan?" She replied, "No... do you mean Johnny Depp?"

Ah, it's 2011 and perhaps I'm a bit of an old relic. But really, what childhood is complete without knowing such a truly hilarious operetta?

The policemen in this particular production, as in most, really steal the show with their 'tarantaras' and other antics, making When the Foeman Bares His Steel one of my favorite songs:

And I love the irony and swashbuckling melodies in With Cat-like Tread:

Definitely a fun show, and one everyone should see!


  1. Yes, I'm commenting on my own post ... watching those videos (which include the cast members I mentioned in my post) is totally reminding me that I used to have a bit of a crush on Frederic when I was a kid. Oh Rex, too bad you are a bit old for me and have already been married twice and fathered a son on the side to top it off. Otherwise we could have been happy - I admired you so.

  2. I played in the Pirates pit (haha) back when I was a freshman in college. Since I wasn't familiar with the show at the time, I went to the silent rehearsal (the one in which they play the recording from the previous night's rehearsal to save the singers' voices) so that I could get all the jokes and see what was going on up on stage. Hilarious!! Oh and speaking of crushes, the seeds of my love for the Pirate King were sown at that time, and we were married five years later. :-)

  3. I think I had a bit of a crush on Frederic, too. He was just so...endearing.

    Did you know that the video was FINALLY released as a DVD? It came out last September. My discretionary spending money is about to be down by about $20...because you're right, my children's childhood simply cannot be complete with knowing this!

  4. A really wonderful G&S company came to Billings several years in a row a while back. I was privileged to see their productions of Pirates and The Mikado. I wish they'd come back! (I've also seen a student production of The Gondoliers which was very fun too.)