'Pirates of Penzance' opens at Roseville Theatre

Gilbert and Sullivan operetta tells the tale of sentimental pirates, young lovers
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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The most tenderhearted pirates you’ll ever meet are those in “Pirates of Penzance.” Among these men, you’ll also find an exceptionally dutiful pirate named Frederic. This man struggles with the choice between staying with his pirate friends he’s known his whole life or fighting against them. This narrative theme — the question of what Frederic will do — weaves through the comic operetta by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, which debuted in 1879 in New York City and remains one of the creative duo’s most popular works. “Pirates of Penzance” opened at Roseville Theatre Friday. The production by Civic Theatre West — formerly Magic Circle Theatre — runs through Aug. 7. Artistic Director Brent Null said the theater hasn’t performed this operetta in several years and the time was right. “Our summer show should be light, fun, frothy and family friendly,” Null said. “This was the perfect choice. It really is a show for everybody.” The operetta tells the story of sentimental pirates, bumbling policemen, young lovers, an eccentric Major-General and his daughters, all morally bound to dictates of honor and duty. The tale — set in the mid-1800s — tells the story of Frederic, who just completed his 21st year as a apprentice to a band of pirates in Penzance, a coastal town in Cornall, England. A blunder made by his hard-of-hearing nursemaid, Ruth, led Frederic to the pirate’s life, when his father had actually intended him to be trained as a ship’s pilot. As a young man, Frederic falls in love with Mabel, the daughter of Major-General Stanley. He soon learns that he was born on a leap year and only has a birthday every four years, which means he must remain indentured to the pirates for 63 more years. Conflict ensues. Civic Theatre West’s production draws on a revised version of the play, which debuted in 1981 in Central Park and featured Kevin Kline and other big-name stars. The adaptation incorporates songs from other Gillbert and Sullivan operettas. Null said although “Pirates of Penzance” was written more than a century ago, the story’s themes continue to resonate with modern audiences. “There is a lot of political and social commentary in the show that is still popular today,” he said. More than two dozen songs are performed throughout the fast-paced farce, as the storyline expresses itself through music and lyrics, more so than conversation. The local version accentuates the show’s humor — none of which is racy or offensive — and lightheartedness. “I love the humor of the show,” Null said. “It’s very funny. And I love the characters.” He especially enjoys the daughters of Major-General Stanley, whose physicality, facial expressions and dialogue make for big laughs. The show has a cast of nearly 30 performers, including an ensemble featuring 19 actors in the roles of police, daughters and pirates. “Economically, people are still struggling and the housing market is still not recovering,” Null said. “This is the perfect opportunity for escapism. You can get away and have a good time.” Sena Christian can be reached at ---------- What:“Pirates of Penzance,” presented by Civic Theatre West When: Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings through Aug. 7, and 2 p.m. Sundays July 11 through Aug. 1. Where: Roseville Theatre, 241 Vernon St. Cost: Tickets are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors, $15 for students and $12 for children under 11 and can be purchased online at or at the box office. Recommended for ages 4 and over. Information: Call the theatre box office at (916) 782-1777. ---------- Pirate Timeline 13th century BC: The earliest documented instances of piracy involve the exploits of pirates in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. 783 to 1066: The Vikings, warriors and looters from Scandinavia, reign during the Early Middle Ages. 1500s to 1600s: Buccaneers prey on Spanish commerce ships in the Carribbean Sea. April 27, 1717: English pirate Samuel Bellamy dies after his ship capsizes and sinks off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He and his crew captured more than 50 ships before his death at age 28. 1815-30: Operating since the Crusades, the Barbary pirates — Muslim pirates from North Africa — end their reign of terror. 1883: Robert Louis Stevenson’s book “Treasure Island” is published, telling a coming-of-age tale of pirates and gold. 1890: Pittsburgh Pirates join Major League Baseball. March 18, 1967: Pirates of the Caribbean ride opens at Disneyland. 1969: Long John Silver’s restaurant opens in Lexington, Ky. Sept. 23, 1993: “The Puffy Shirt” episode of “Seinfeld” airs with Jerry wearing a pirate-style shirt for his appearance on “The Today Show.” July 9, 2003: Johnny Depp stars in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” Two sequels films follow in 2006 and 2007. April 8, 2009: Somali pirates hijack an American cargo ship off the coast of Somali and take Capt. Richard Phillips hostage. Phillips is rescued five days later. July 9, 2010: “Pirates of Penzance” opens at the Roseville Theatre.