It’s a tale with a century-long history, but when they get their hands on it, it’s a story bred for the 21st century.
Seaton Secondary’s 27th Street Theatre Co. presents Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, a semi-modern rock opera Dec. 5-9 and 12-16.
“We have a fresh twist,” said Seaton Secondary instructor and director Lana O’Brien, adding that rather than being set in the 1880s like the original spinning of the yarn, 27th Street Theatre Co.’s rendition is set in the 1980s.
“We were challenged on how to bill it to our audience, but we came up with our tagline: a semi-modern rock opera.”
The lyrics that Gilbert and Sullivan fans have come to know and love remain unchanged, but the instrumentals have been refreshed and steeped in rock n’ roll by Lora Bensmiller, Jax Dolman and Jacob Soucy.
Following that theme, the pirates are decked out in ’80s rocker apparel, complete with big hair, leather jackets and mesh; while the police corps are clad in tap dance gear reminiscent of MC Hammer and the Major-General Stanley and company are classic high school preps, complete with popped-collars and sweaters slung over shoulders.
However, the modern-interpretation remains true to the traditional, two act comic opera.
“When I first picked this show, the students had no clue what is was,” O’Brien said. “Now it’s 1,000 per cent bought in. They have fallen in love with the operetta.”
And for a high school theatre company, bringing in new content is what it’s all about.
“We’re an educational theatre, so doing stuff they know all the time isn’t the best,” O’Brien said. “We want to push them.”
The cast of 60 kids, with some roles double cast and a maximum of 45 members on stage per night, had to audition to enter O’Brien’s honour-level class, with auditions held during spring break the year prior and practices starting in tandem with the fall semester.
“We expect a lot from them,” O’Brien said. “And they deliver.”
For the cast, many of whom are working towards a career in the performing arts, the hard work and dedication required is more than worthwhile.
“It’s been a struggle at times but it’s been very worth it for all,” said RJ Liebelt, a Grade 12 student who plays Frederic and has performed with the theatre twice. “Many people are finding themselves here. I love being on stage behind all of this glamour and lights. I love spending time backstage, learning who we are as people.”
Shaughnessy O’Brien, also a Grade 12 student who plays the Pirate Queen and plans on studying theatre in post-secondary, agreed.
“There’s nothing quite like being in front of the audience,” Shaughnessy said. “I love being able to be someone other than myself.”
Grade 12 student Nelya McDowell, who plays Ruth, added that when you’re on stage, the hard work is paid off.
“I love that feeling you get from the audience when they realize all the hard work you put in,” McDowell said.
Zac Boring, also a Grade 12 student who plays Samuel — the Pirate Queen’s Lieutenant — has been playing catch up since he was moved up from an understudy to a principal character.
“I just really enjoy it,” Boring said. “It’s fun to put yourself in a different character and switch everything you do — it really engages the mind. It’s intense but very fulfilling.”
Ellen Campbell, a Grade 12 who plays Mabel, added, “I just love performing and telling stories. I feel really fulfilled after a show. This is something I could do forever.”
And for tech and first-time stage manager Reid Collinson, a Grade 12 student, the performance takes on a different yet parallel tone.
“It’s super fascinating,” Collinson said. “There’s kind of a magic you get to see when you see how much goes into the play.”
While their hard work has paid off when they stand under the spotlight, the students all agreed that there’s more to theatre than appearing on stage.
For Elise Parsonage, a Grade 12 who plays Matron Major-General, theatre has helped her grow.
“I just love being able to put myself out there,” Parsonage said. “I was a terrified Grade 8, and doing this has really put me out there. Theatre has totally changed me.”
27th Street Theatre Co. presents Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, a semi-modern rock opera at Seaton Secondary Dec. 5-9 and 12-16 with evening shows at 7:30 p.m. and matinees Dec. 9 and 16. Tickets are available for $15, all seats, by calling 250-542-3361.