Pirates of Penzance (1994-95)
The Pirates of Penzance enjoyed two premieres precisely because of pirates - copyright pirates. After the extraordinary success of HMS Pinafore, Gilbert, Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte determined to stop pirated productions of their operettas by establishing copyright under the new laws. Accordingly, while The Pirates opened in New York on December 31st, 1879, to American razzamatazz and rave reviews, a single matinee playing to fifty bewildered patrons in the sleepy and freezing Devon town of Paignton on December 30th gave the creative triumvirate the legal muscle they needed to protect their interest in this eagerly awaited new piece.
And who wouldn't be confused to witness a new operetta about Cornish
pirates being performed by well dressed Portsmouth sailors wearing handkerchiefs
on their heads and demonstrating only the barest familiarity with the words
and music they were holding as they walked through a production taking
place on a stage littered with random bits and pieces of scenery thrown
together from the theatre's store? This was because Richard D'Oyly Carte's
secretary, and future wife, Helen Lenoir, produced the original English
Pirates purely for the legal record with the touring Pinafore company who
were playing at the time in the
nearby seaside resort of Torquay.
Not that the New York version was any less frantic in preparation. When the carefree Sullivan arrived in New York, he discovered that he had forgotten to pack his musical sketches for Act 1 and had to start again from memory. It's little wonder that he cleverly inserted his bottom drawer chorus from Thespis 'Climbing Over Rocky Mountains' to speed up the composition process. Act 2 was finished at dawn after Sullivan had slaved over Christmas, while the overture was not completed until the morning of the opening night.
Delighted by the topsy-turvy potential of duty, legal contracts, leap years and a preposterous band of aristocratic dimwits and picnicking, paddling bimbos, Gilbert described his new libretto as his attempt to Îtreat a thoroughly farcical subject in a thoroughly serious manner' - his recipe, in fact, for all the Savoy operas except The Yeomen of the Guard.
When The Pirates opened in London the day after April Fool's Day in 1880, it proved another Gilbert and Sullivan smash, running for 363 performances and being revived frequently in the partners' lifetime. In 1884, there was even a production by a children's company during the Christmas season at the Savoy - surely the ultimate accolade to any piece, that it can be as welcome as pantomime, that most loved and magical of British theatrical genres.
The Australian premiere of The Pirates was in 1880 in Melbourne with Howard Vernon as the Major-General and JC Williamson as the Sergeant of Police. The piece proved to be a goldmine for the firm of JC Williamson's for the next sixty years, while in 1969, Stephen Hall's production for The Australian Opera established Dennis Olsen as Australia's leading interpreter of the comic roles originally played by George Grossmith.
One of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company's traditional favourites, The Pirates exploded into new life on Broadway in 1980 with Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival production directed by Wilford Leach. In retrospect, it seems entirely appropriate that those two great British institutions, Shakespeare and Gilbert and Sullivan, should have been thrown together by American showbiz to introduce new generations to the delights of one of the world's greatest pieces of musical confectionery.
In 1984, this Broadway production burst onto the Australian stage starring Jon English, Simon Gallaher, June Bronhill, David Atkins and Marina Prior. An instant hit, it enjoyed three successful seasons throughout Australia until 1986.
As early as 1988 Simon Gallaher was attempting to revive the success
of Pirates and approached Jon English who although interested, was committed
indefinitely to a television sit-com All Together Now. Gallaher tentatively
approached Warner Chappell in Australia to secure the rights to the Joseph
Papp version but early negotiations were shelved due to English's lack
of availability. The idea was revisited from time to time over the next
4 years or so but Gallaher was continually revising his concept and came
to the opinion that a new update would be more appropriate as well as giving
him far greater artistic control over the project. Gallaher set about recruiting
his own creative team and continued to lobby the various arts and funding
organisations around Australia with no success.
Gallaher originally hoped that his production would be commissioned by a major theatrical organisation and that he would package the artistic side and deliver the physical production to the stage for another producer. When this had proved to be fruitless, he again revised his approach and endeavoured to sell-off a guaranteed number of weeks to anyone who would then not have to underwrite full production costs to secure a musical for only three weeks playing time. He succeeded in selling three guaranteed weeks to The Lyric Opera of Queensland and a further three weeks to The Burswood Casino in Perth.
Gallaher was now on the way with six weeks guarantee but with further
problems still to overcome. Firstly he was still having to underwrite the
entire pre-production in advance of the first performances. It was still
not viable without further seasons in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. His
bank had lost confidence in the project and refused to advance any further
funds as Gallaher was extended in many areas. He continued to trumpet the
merits of his production to anyone who would listen and announced publicly
to the press that the show would now go ahead and that he was looking for
interested parties to assist with a Sydney season. A mysterious phone call
was to save the day. A gentleman rang to enquire about the project and
wished to see documentation saying that 'money was no object'. The mystery
continued as he only left a mobile phone number and a post box address.
As Gallaher had nothing to lose he forwarded to information and was contacted
again two weeks later by the same gentleman who announced that the mystery
investor now wished to proceed and he could reveal that it was millionaire
entrepreneur and adventurer Dick Smith. Gallaher and Smith met and Smith
cautiously invested in the Sydney season but
elected to take no further options. The investment was limited but was the catalyst in making the Sydney season and the rest of the Australian tour a reality.
From there Gallaher's fortunes never looked back. His new production was now scheduled to open across the country with the only uncertain area still being the new and revised (and untried) version of the show. There were many new ideas including the deletion of the female chorus and replacing them with a three-girl singing group. He acquired the licensing rights to the name of a former comic trio (The Fabulous Singlettes) who satirized girl trios of the sixties. With Beehive hair styles and outrageous costumes, Gallaher believed that this would breath new life into the century old piece.
He set about casting the other roles with himself and Jon English in the lead. He chose a new and contemporary comedian to play the Major General as again he felt it would put a new stamp on his production. Glynn Nicholas had success with anything from busking, to television to his own one man theatrical show. He was experimental and innovative with a public following quite different to Gallaher's or English's. Theatrical veteran Toni Lamond was cast as Ruth. Toni brought a theatrical credibility to the collection of players and a performance which was always polished and consistent.
As the Joseph Papp version in Australia had introduced a new soprano
some ten years earlier in Marina Prior (who was now a big star) to play
the role of Mabel, Gallaher cast a young Queenslander who had previously
understudied Marina in The Phantom of the Opera. Helen Donaldson looked
like a china doll and sang like a bird. The only other principal cast member
left to secure was The Police Sergeant. In 1986,the third year of the Jo
Papp run in Australia, the producers had stumbled across an unusual and
unique performer who had an impressive bass voice and a body of rubber
which could contort itself whilst
doing an array of tricks with balls, skittles and unicycles . Tim Tyler originally replaced David Atkins and Jack Webster in that version of the show (1986) and Gallaher requested that he join the new company. At first Tyler was committed to other work and Gallaher was forced to look elsewhere. Just at the moment when others were almost signed, Tyler changed his mind and accepted the tour.
Creative work was well underway with designs and construction, musical
arrangements and the like being a daily task of revision. The director
Craig Schaefer was no stranger to the team. Schaefer came to Australia
to assist in the staging of the Joseph Papp version ten years earlier.
He was then choreographer and assistant director. Schaefer had worked his
way up the ranks from ensemble in the Los Angeles production of Jo Papp's
Pirates to dance captain and later assistant to the choreographer. He had
coached and worked with many of the original stars to prepare them to take
over a role from the
previous artist. There was an immediate chemistry between Gallaher, English and Schaefer. They remained friends over the years with Schaefer returning to direct Gallaher in a production of The Student Prince in 1987. When Gallaher married in 1990 Schaefer was Best Man. There was never any doubt that Schaefer would be director whenThe Pirates finally came together.
In May 1994 the show premiered in Brisbane at the Lyric Theatre (Queensland Performing Arts Centre). It was part of the 1994 subscription season to the Lyric Opera of Queensland where it was hoped that the opera company would attract patrons outside their usual base of subscribers and opera lovers. They were not to be disappointed. The season was practically sold out before it opened. Extra performances were scheduled and squeezed in around performances of the opera company's other production Rigoletto playing at the same time. The audiences screamed and the critics unanimously proclaimed it an outstanding hit. The changes and modifications were all met with enthusiasm including a revised and electronic finale (The Mega-Mix) which almost did not happen. The general manger of the opera company was incensed by the finale and requested that it be cut after seeing it at the final dress rehearsal. Gallaher refused but said that he would be the first to cut it if the audiences expressed the same contempt. The following night's preview audience was enthusiastic about the entire performance but when the Mega-Mix finale came to a close they erupted with cheers and roars and immediately rose to their feet. The Mega-Mix was there to stay.
Gallaher's Pirates went on through 1994 playing to capacity audiences wherever they went and to constant critical acclaim. By year's end (and only a little over 4 months of playing) it had played to over 350,000 people; was filmed for television which reached over 2,000,000 (almost 15% of the country's population); and for Christmas was released on video which went double-Platinum within three months. 1995 saw a revised cast return to many cities (and some new ones) but the season was then promptly cut short as Gallaher needed his cast and team to open his next production by June 1995. This was to be (The Pirates do...) The Mikado! In 1996 Gallaher mounted a new production of his Pirates in New Zealand which ironically was follow up to his Mikado which premiered in New Zealand as 'Part One' in Gallaher's soon-to-be Trilogy of Gilbert and Sullivan. The Pirates in New Zealand had the cast of The Mikado including Drew Forsythe as the Major General; Bev Shean as Ruth; & David Gould as The Police Sergeant.
Essgee's Pirates is now being licensed to amateur group and schools across Australia & New Zealand through Warner Chappell and receiving great reviews and more full houses. There are at least three other version of The Pirates on film: the Hollywood movie of the Broadway production starring Kevin Kline as the Pirate King and Linda Ronstadt as Mabel, The Pirate Movie, (a vague adaptation) shot in Australia and featuring Christopher Atkins as Frederic, and the CEL Arts video with Keith Michell as the Major-General and Peter Allen as The Pirate King.
All of which goes to prove that in the case of The Pirates of Penzance,
for 120 years and however many leap years, it is, it is a glorious thing
to be the very model of a modern major general.
The Pirates of Penzance
Our story begins as Frederic, a young man with an unswerving sense of duty, is about to reach his 21st birthday and conclude his long apprenticeship to the infamous Pirates of Penzance. His good-hearted but hard-of-hearing nursemaid Ruth reveals that she has made a most disastrous mistake. When Frederic was just a boy she misunderstood her employer's directive and apprenticed him to a pirate instead of a pilot, as intended. Frederic tells the Pirate King (a dashing figure who never preys on orphans since he himself has had the misfortune to be one) that his freedom will be devoted to exterminating all pirates and that it would be better for the pirates to leave before midnight when his indentures are over. The pirates depart immediately and Frederic is left alone with Ruth, the only woman he has seen in years. Ruth pleads with Frederic to take her with him, but her case is lost when a bevy of very young, attractive women appear.
Frederic appeals to the girls to overlook his pirate apparel and his past profession, but no one will listen until the beauteous Mabel appears. Frederic and Mabel fall in love instantly. The pirates return and Mabel warns them that their actions will not go unpunished since her father, the guardian of all of these young ladies, holds the exalted rank of Major-General. The Major-General is forced to pretend that he is also an orphan in order to win their sympathy. Although he fools the Pirate King, the Major-General cannot rest easy with his troubled conscience.
Meanwhile, Frederic is launching an attack on the pirates with the cowardly
assistance of the police. But Ruth and the Pirate King interrupt him with
a most ingenious paradox - Frederic was born in leap year on the 29th of
February and, in terms of actual birthdays, is only 5 instead of 21. Frederic,
slave of duty that he is, rejoins his former associates, and the police
left to attack the pirates on their own.
The Pirates seize the Major-General and the police are quickly defeated. But the Sergeant of Police charges them to yield 'in Queen Victoria's name' and the pirates cannot resist this overpowering appeal.
Ruth then reveals that the pirates are actually 'noblemen who have gone wrong'. Mabel and Frederic are happily united forever with the unqualified blessings of the Major-General.
Gilbert & Sullivan Opening Company
Pour, O Pour the Pirate Sherry Pirate King, Samuel, Frederic & Pirates
When Frederic Was a Little Lad Ruth
Oh, Better Far to Live and Die Pirate King & Pirates
Oh, False One, You have Deceived Me! Ruth & Frederic
Climbing Over Rocky Mountain The Daughters
Stop, Ladies, Pray! Frederic & Daughters
Oh, Is there Not One Maiden Breast Frederic & Daughters
Poor Wandering One Mabel & Daughters
What Ought We to Do? The Daughters
How Beautifully Blue the Sky Mabel, Frederic & Daughters
Stay, We Must Not Lose Our Senses Frederic, Daughters & Pirates
Hold, Monsters! Mabel, Samuel, Major-General, Daughters & Pirates
I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General Pirate King, Major-General* & Ensemble
Oh, Men of Dark and Dismal Fate Company
Oh, Dry the Glistening Tear Mabel & Daughters
Then Frederic Major-General & Frederic
When the Foeman Bares his Steel Sergeant, Mabel, Police & Daughters
Now for the Pirates' Lair! Frederic, Pirate King & Ruth
When You had Left our Pirate Fold Ruth, Frederic & Pirate King
Paradox Frederic, Ruth & Pirate King
Duty, Duty*# Frederic, Ruth & Pirate King
Away, Away! My Heart's on Fire Ruth, Pirate King & Frederic
All is Prepared Mabel & Frederic
Stay, Frederic, Stay! Mabel & Frederic
No, I Am Brave Mabel, Sergeant & Police
When a Felon's Not Engaged in his Employment Sergeant & Police
A Rollicking Band of Pirates We Pirates, Sergeant & Police
With Cat-Like Tread, Upon Our Prey We Steal Pirates, Police & Samuel
Hush, Hush ! Not a Word Frederic, Pirates, Police & Major-General
Sighing Softly to the River Major-General & Ensemble
Finale 1880 Company
Finale 1994 Company
* Additional lyrics by Melvyn Morrow
The Pirates of Penzance
Original 1994 Cast
(in order of appearance)
The Pirate King...................... Jon English
Samuel, his Lieutenant ............. Marc James
Frederic ............................. Simon Gallaher
Ruth, a Pirate Maid ................. Toni Lamond
Maj.General Stanley's Daughters The Fabulous Singlettes........Susie French; Melissa Langton; Anna Butera
Mabel ................................. Helen Donaldson
Major-General Stanley ............. Glynn Nicholas*
The Sergeant ......................... Tim Tyler
* Maj.General replaced by Derek Metzger in September '94 for remainder
tour and video recording.
Robert Dale, Michael Falzon, Marc James, Gary Jones, David Lowe, Peter Rees, David Scotchford, Jason Smith, Anthony Weigh, Lachlan Youngberg.
The Pirate King ....... Anthony Weigh
Samuel ................. Lachlan Youngberg
Frederic ................ David Lowe
Ruth.................... Anna Butera
The Fabulous Singlettes....
Mabel ...................... Susie French
Maj.General Stanley .....Jason Smith
Sergeant ................... Robert Dale
Swing Boy ................ David Coombs
1995 Tour Cast
(in order of appearance)
The Pirate King ..................... Jon English
Samuel, his Lieutenant ................ Marc James
Frederic ................................ Simon Gallaher
Ruth, a Pirate Maid ................... Toni Lamond
Major-General Stanley's Daughters The Fabulous Singlettes......Susie French; Melissa Langton; Anna Butera
Mabel ................................... Helen Donaldson
Major-General Stanley ............... Jason Smith
The Sergeant .......................... Tim Tyler and Robert Dale
Adrian Barnes, Damien Chambers, David Coombs, Dan Cowles, Robert Dale, Marc James, Gary Jones, Martin Lane, David Lowe, Rod Waterworth, Lachlan Youngberg
The Pirate King.......... Dan Cowles
Samuel .................... Lachlan Youngberg
Frederic ................... David Lowe
Ruth ....................... Anna Butera
The Fabulous Singlettes .. Emma Powell
Mabel ...................... Susie French
Major-General Stanley .... Lachlan Youngberg
Sergeant .................... Damien Chambers
Swing Boys ................ David Coombs
New Zealand Production
(in order of appearance)
The Pirate King ................... Jon English
Samuel, his Lieutenant ............. Lachlan Youngberg
Frederic .............................. Peter Cupples
Ruth, a Pirate Maid ................. Bev Shean
Major-General Stanley's Daughters The Fabulous Singlettes.............Lisa McArdle; Georgia Duder; Andi Gallaher
Mabel ................................ Terri Crouch
Major-General Stanley .............Drew Forsythe
The Sergeant ........................ David Gould
Jason Barry-Smith, Christophe Broadway, Robert Dale, Les Dwight, Tristan Glendinning, Gary Jones, Paul Lewis, Aidan Mac Bride-Stewart, Glenn Mayo, John Pemberton, Marcus Pointon.
The Pirate King ................... David Gould
Major-General Stanley ........... Jason Smith
Police Sergeant ................... Les Dwight
Frederic ........................... Gary Jones
Ruth ............................... Georgia Duder
Mabel ............................. Miranda Freeman
Samuel ............................ Robert Dale
The Fabulous Singlettes......... Marissa Craig
Swing Boy/Cover ................... Robert Dale
Essgee links: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~essgee/html/PirateOLDHome.html
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