The Pirates of Penzance at Howard Conn Fine Arts Center in Minneapolis

Poster design by Tom McGregor and Mary Olson

The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company (GSVLOC) could be named the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Silly Opera Company (GSVSOC) as G&S Operas are awfully silly in the best possible way. Their latest production The Pirates of Penzance is no exception and as such is hugely enjoyable and entertaining. GSVLOC is an unusual company in that they only perform the works of Gilbert and Sullivan and has been doing so in rotation since 1979. Sometimes what you need to do is find out what you are good at, and do that. GSVLOC is very good at staging the works of G & S and I hope they continue to produce them for many years to come. Unlike what we usually think of when we say”Opera” for these productions there is no need for captions so that you can understand what everyone is singing, they are in english and it is not so stylized so as to be unintelligible. Easy to follow, well sung and with a wonderful sense of humor. What is so remarkable about these works is how modern the humor feels despite being, in the case of The Pirates of Penzance, over 140 years old. It’s the sort of Opera you can safely bring the whole family to as the humor is universal.

The plot centers around Frederic who was apprenticed to pirates as a young boy due to his nursemaid Ruth mishearing his father’s instructions. As the Opera opens Frederic has turned 21 and the Pirates are throwing a party for him as this marks the end of his endenturement. Frederic reveals to the Pirate King that he has stayed with them out of a sense of duty though he knew it was a mistake, but now as he is free he feels his duty is now to eradicate the pirates. Parting from the pirates Frederic comes across a party of young women, the daughters of Major-General Stanley, who is of course the very model of a modern Major-General. He falls in love with the one daughter who will have him despite his past association with pirates. Her name is Mabel. Just when all seems too good to be true, the pirates arrive and attempt to make off with the Major-General’s daughters. Luckily the Major-General knows of these tenderhearted pirates and their weakness for orphans. He lies to the Pirate King that he is an orphan and so the pirates leave empty handed. In Act II just before Frederic is about to lead a group of policemen against the pirates, the Pirate King and Ruth pay him a visit and point out a paradox that they thought he might find humorous. It seems Frederic was born on February 29th, leap year, so technically he is only a little over five years old. Thanks to his overdeveloped sense of duty, Frederic returns to the ranks of the pirates and plans to remain with them until 1940 when he will have had 21 birthdays. Mabel, as any young woman in love would, has agreed to wait for him. Silliness continues to ensue.

The Howard Conn Fine Arts Center is not a large Theater or stage, but somehow it manages to hold a cast of 30 performers. True about 20 are unnamed Pirates, Policemen, Daughters and their Governesses, but the sound they make together is impressive. Seth Tychon Steidl plays Frederic and Lara Trujillo plays Ruth and more than any other actors they seemed to fully embody their roles. Not only is everyone in the entire ensemble in great vocal form but all thirty of them uniformly understand the tone of the piece. Director Gary Briggle understands the humorous elements and finds the perfect way to stage each beat to maximize it’s comic potential. The production is under the musical direction of Randal A. Buikema who along with his orchestra bring one of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s best loved compositions to exquisite life. Wendy Waszut-Barret’s set design and scenic backdrop are perfectly complemented by Carl Schoenborn’s lighting design. This is particularly well exhibited during the Overture which plays as the lighting slowly changes and with them comes beautiful, subtle changes in the look of the main backdrop of a pirate ship sailing on the horizon. It’s an effective way to visually engage the audience and enables them to connect to the music on a level beyond aurelly.

GSVLOC’s production of The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty is a joyful production filled with witty lyrics and magically engaging music performed by a group of talented and comedically gifted actors and musicians. Don’t miss your chance to see one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most well known and brilliant very light operas. The play runs through November 20th at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center for more information and to purchase tickets go to, you can also find a lot of very interesting information on their sites about G&S and the theatre company.

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