MPC promises a lively version of <i>Pirates of Penzance.</i>

High Seas Highjinx: Duty’s Slave: In matters multi-farcical and patter diabolical there is no-one more tactical than Cusson’s Major General.

I am the very model of a modern Major-General

When Gary Bolen, the chairman of MPC’s drama department, strolled through the nave of St. Paul’s Cathedral while visiting London last year, he stopped for a moment to take it all in…and discovered that he was standing on the tomb of Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan. “I had to laugh,” he said, “I didn’t even know he was buried there, but I took the opportunity to ask him to give me a hand with the production.”

I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical

From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical

The production in question is Pirates of Penzance, an operetta with music by the redoubtable Sir Arthur, and libretto written by Sir William Schwenck Gilbert. From 1870, Gilbert and Sullivan maintained a stormy collaboration for almost a quarter century and produced some of the most popular musical theater of their day.  Three of their works continue to be among the most-produced musicals in the English language: Pirates of Penzance,  H.M.S. Pinafore and The Mikado.  MPC Theater Company’s production of Pirates opens this Thursday at the Morgan Stock Stage.

“I’ve always wanted to do this show which, along with The Mikado, is my favorite work of Gilbert and Sullivan. But even though I have directed a lot of musical theater, operetta is way out of my comfort zone,” said Bolen by phone following an exhausting technical rehearsal.  “Every element of the plot is sung, and the music is very challenging.”

The hero, Frederic, has long been apprenticed to a pirate and is about to turn 21 and become “a pirate indeed.” He had been delivered to the pirates by his nursemaid, Ruth, who had misunderstood her master’s instructions to apprentice the boy to a pilot (not a pirate, a pilot… of a ship).

As the story opens Ruth reveals her mistake. Frederic asks the crew to give up their lawless life, as he now feels duty-bound to do away with them, although they are sensitive and gullible ruffians. Just then the beautiful daughters of Major General Stanley, who lives in the neighboring estate, climb over the rocks into the pirates’ lair.

The story that follows involves romance, pirates that turn out to be noblemen and all sorts of crazy business. When the audience meets Major General Stanley he introduces himself with the “Modern Major-General,” an outrageous tongue-twister sung at a breathtaking pace and packed with classical references that, in the 19th century were common knowledge, but are now obscure.

I know our mythic history, King Arthur’s and Sir Caradoc’s;

I answer hard acrostics, I’ve a pretty taste for paradox

“Our cast has been really dedicated to mining these references,” Bolen says. “We are producing a guide to the language for our audiences to read as they wait for the show to begin.”  

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MPC first produced Pirates of Penzance 18 years ago, just after producer Joseph Papp had modernized the staging and launched a long-running Broadway version starring Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt. This became a film with the original Broadway cast. Pirates now had a new contemporary audience.

“Our production is based on the Papp version,” Bolen says, “more streamlined and high-energy than the D’Oyly Carte productions that have toured worldwide since the 1880’s, in which the cast stands and sings in beautiful groupings around the stage. But we don’t play it tongue-in-cheek, we present this farce in deadly earnest.”

I’m very good at integral and differential calculus;

I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:

In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,

I am the very model of a modern Major-General

“We draw our cast from the entire community,” says Bolen. “Benjamin Ward, who plays Frederic, is a newcomer who showed up on the last day of auditions, with a great voice and a lot of experience. Some of the cast will be familiar to our audiences from musical productions locally; Jared Hussey, the Pirate King, starred in our production of Urinetown;  Kay Akervik, a very young veteran actor from Salinas, has a phenomenal, trained soprano voice. Ken Cusson, well-known to Peninsula theatergoers for dramatic and musical roles with PacRep and Western Stage, is the very model of a modern Major General. They have great voices and the voices blend perfectly. It’s the best-sounding cast you’re ever going to hear.”

In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,

He is the very model of a modern Major-General.  

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE previews Thursday, May 10 and continues through May 27. Performances are Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sunday matinees at 2pm. At MPC’s  Morgan Stock Stage, 980 Fremont St., Monterey. Preview tickets are $10, regular tickets are $10-$25.  Call 646-4213 or ticketguys.com.

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