Gilbert and Sullivan have been a gift to the world of musical theatre now and back in Victorian times when the British duo were in their prime.
However, their verbose songs, thanks to librettist W. S. Gilbert, have tripped up many a singer’s tongue. Just ask poor Brian Martin, a well-known broadcaster who co-hosts the Sunrise Show on Vernon’s Sun FM.
Those who listen to Martin every morning know the guy can talk, but he can also sing, and for the past few years he has entered the foray of musical theatre under the direction of professional soprano Melina Moore, who runs the Valley Vocal Arts (VVA) studio out of Vernon.
Martin, who appeared as the rather effeminate Carmen Ghia in last year’s VVA production of The Producers, is this year taking on the role of the very model of a modern Major-General in Gilbert and Sullivan’s ode to high seas adventure, The Pirates of Penzance.
And he’s got to sing, in comic baritone, the classic ditty where Major-General Stanley espouses “I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical, I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical, About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news, With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.”
It’s enough to make one lose his voice –– forever.
“I am worried about the words, I always am,” Martin confesses. “I am definitely out of my comfort zone. When I get up to speak, it’s fine, but singing is a different animal for me. I am scared, but once I get up there, I’ll get over it. I can hide behind the character.”
Martin and his fellow castaways, make that castmates, which includes the whole studio –– more than 50 singers from the VVA’s youngest students to its more “mature” –– have been busy memorizing words, while adding dramatic, at times, over-the-top flair to the notoriously silly opera.
“We’ve amped up the silliness, and have added a few pop culture references to bring it more into the modern day,” said Annalysa Tylor, who plays lead Mabel, one of Major-General Stanley’s 12 daughters and paramour to Frederic.
Tylor has memorized everyone else’s lines and runs through the plot as if she was reliving the play when G&S first staged it at New York’s Fifth Avenue Theatre on New Year’s Eve in 1879.
For the Wikipedia version, Pirates of Penzance follows young Frederic (played here by tenor Andrew Nydam, who last year was shy accountant Leo Bloom in The Producers), who on his 21st birthday is released from pirate duty after being mistakenly brought on board their ship when he was eight. (His hard-of-hearing nursemaid, Ruth, played by Karen Bliss, thought he was meant to be apprenticed as a pirate when it was supposed to be a pilot.)
After meeting the Major-General and his daughters, he falls in love with young Mabel, but things get a little tricky when he finds out his true birthday, and so he finds himself pulled between his true love and his band of pirate friends, led by the bumbling but lovable Pirate King (Scott May, Jean Valjean in VVA’s Les Miserables two years ago).
“This is The Producers of its time,” said Bliss, who last year took on the unpronounceable named Swedish secretary in The Producers. “It’s a challenging musical for us both vocally and physically.”
“It’s also the most classical production we’ve done so far,” added Nydam. “There’s a ton of humour and energy in the production.”
Leading the troupe is Moore, who is not only preparing her wards with words and encouragement, she is the musical accompanist, and plays the piano during the whole production.
Pirates is occurring before and after many other engagements the soprano is participating in this year, including performances at Sparkling Hill Wellness Resort, and the first annual International Pacific Tattoo Festival in Victoria. Following that, Moore is off to Crete, Greece to sing at the second Mediterranean Festival of the Arts with musical theatre/Phantom of the Opera legend Peter Karrie.
“This is by far the most challenging show I’ve produced and directed with my singers,” she said about Pirates. “It is vocally demanding and a marathon of stamina. However, I think it’s also the most fun.
“I’ve chosen to direct this show as I believe Gilbert and Sullivan would have, if they were alive today. It isn’t necessarily for the G&S purist, but rather a hilarious, irreverent parody, and a laugh-a-minute.”
Thankfully Moore has help behind the scenes including costume designer Kelowna’s Hazel Rodgers, who worked for more than a decade with the “late” Viva Musica; Dave Brotsky on lights; stage manager Jessika LaFramboise, who previously produced/directed The Vagina Monologues in Vernon; Caroline Dehner and Crystal Badach, who both work in the Canadian film industry, on wigs and make-up; former Valley Vocal Arts student Mary Ouwendyk on sets,; and Sandra Larsen who Moore says continues to keep her sane.
The Pirates of Penzance will take the stage for three nights only at the Powerhouse Theatre on May 31, June 1 and 2 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25/adult, $22.50/student (under 16) and senior (over 60), available at the Ticket Seller box office, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.