Tag: Pirates of Penzance

Pirates! (No ninjas)

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008 | All Things, Arts

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players was formed in 1974 by a group of friends, mostly alumni of the Barnard College Gilbert & Sullivan Society. The troupe’s first performances were held at block parties, street fairs, nursing homes, and in city parks, with costumes, sets and a sound system borrowed from the school. From those humble beginnings, the troupe has grown over the last three decades to become “America’s preeminent professional Gilbert & Sullivan repertory ensemble” with over 2,000 performances of G&S masterpieces throughout the eastern United States and Canada under their belts.

NYGASP’s 2008 New York season includes six productions over four weeks at City Center – two weeks each in January and June. This month features performances of Princess Ida, The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado and Trial by Jury; June’s repertory will include H.M.S. Pinafore, The Gondoliers, The Mikado, and The Pirates of Penzance.

City Center

The Pirates of Penzance, or The Slave of Duty, which J and I were here to see tonight, is one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s enduring “Big Three” comic operas, along with H.M.S. Pinafore, and The Mikado. Even those who have only a passing familiarity with the Victorian-era composing duo’s works are able to identify The Mikado as the faux-Japanese/yellowface operetta (the production of which was the subject of Mike Leigh’s 1999 Academy Award-winning biopic Topsy-Turvy); the other two operettas are perhaps slightly less distinguishable from one another, as I discovered when a couple of different people I spoke with that day conflated the sea-faring works in their recollections.

Buttercup? (No, that’s Pinafore.) “What, never?”/“No, never!”/”What, never?”/“Well, hardly ever!” (Pinafore again.) Pirates is the story of Frederic, a dutiful young man mistakenly apprenticed to a band of tender-hearted, orphaned pirates, who yearns to return to “respectable society” and marry his love Mabel, the daughter of a Major General. The comic opera features a bevy of beautiful, unwed maidens, a team of timid constables, plots and hijinks galore. Cutting edge theatre it’s not, and NYGASP’s production, despite its physical proximity to Broadway is not quite a Broadway-caliber show. What it is, though, is a flagrantly and joyously fey production of painted backdrops, goofy costumes and hokey choreography, which at one point, includes a broadly hammy kickline of pirates shaking sparkly silver hats. I laughed aloud several times: the performers’ unabashed love of Gilbert and Sullivan was downright infectious. Even J, just a day back from his tour of Italy, managed to battle off jetlag through to the end.

Pirates of Penzance

Of course, we all sat up in anticipation during the rapid-fire patter-filled Act I showstopper, “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General.” It takes some wit (and quite a bit of gall) to rhyme “lot o’ news” with “hypotenuse.” Check out this clip from the 1983 film version (Kevin Kline as The Pirate King! Linda Ronstadt as Mabel! Angela Lansbury as Frederic’s maid, Ruth!) then watch the same video dubbed over with “Baby Got Back,” G&S-style, by Sirs Gilbert, Sullivan and Mix-a-Lot. (According to the folks at VH1’s Best Week Ever, it’s among the “Top Ten Worst Karaoke Trap Songs.”) Isn’t YouTube great?

Pirates of Penzance

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