I wish to publicly add my voice to the chorus of those in our community praising Charles Hays Secondary School’s recent musical production, The Pirates of Penzance.
Through stories in your earlier editions, your readers will be conscious of the extensive preparations undertaken by the performers, musicians, technical crew and instructors. What they may not appreciate, however, is the challenge of bringing one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s best-loved operettas to the stage in a form that wins the affection of its audience as readily as the recent performances at the Lester Centre of the Arts.
In the case of a composition that is 135 years-old, the task of straddling the cultural chasm between the Victoria era and the 21st-century is immense. What’s more, the musical range of Sullivan’s score and the diction-defying demands of Gilbert’s libretto elevate the work to the stature and virtuosity of grand opera.
For theatre and music teachers Alison O’Toole and Jeff Saunders to have selected the piece is admirable — as a teaching tool it represents the germination of modern musical theatre, and stretches even the most dextrous talents. For the cast to have staged such a jocular, able and original interpretation is magnificent. They grasped the root of Gilbert and Sullivan’s enduring popularity — artful silliness — and spliced in wit and characterization that demonstrated mastery of the material.
The punctilious incarnation of Frederic (Daelan Calder), the pirate apprentice, provided clever counterpoint to the hot-blooded Pirate King (Ryan Wightman). Mr. Wightman’s deft sense of timing eked comic riches from every cue. Ruth (Hannah Komadina) infused her nursemaid’s pitiable earthiness with subtle hints of something coyly lascivious, in contrast to the rarified cultivation of Mabel (Jordan Weir). Ms. Weir’s handling of the strenuous coloratura part (soaring notes and intricate ornamentation) was exceptional. The faint-hearted Sergeant of Police (Michael Krieger) and his officers demonstrated synchronized slapstick that would not be out of place in a Victorian burlesque.
The strutting and fretting of Major-General Stanley (Jacob Skerritt) was an achievement whose memory will long endure. His delivery of the patter-songs seemed effortless. Even the murderously tongue-taxing line “I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus, / In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous” was nimbly articulated. The same ease distinguished his affectation of an absurdly posh English accent (it’s hard to roll your R’s at 300 words per minute) and employment of his lanky frame to accentuate the Major-General’s views on the elasticity of the truth (“General Stanley is no orphan! More than that, he never was one!”).
Musically, if there was ever want in tuning, timing or expression onstage, consistently strong support from the pit orchestra provided the ballast to keep things shipshape. Whatever harmonic precision was absent from choral segments was offset by chorus members’ winsome power, passion and presence.
A week before the curtain rose on Prince Rupert’s pirates, I had occasion to deliver a public lecture on two successive nights about English light opera, including the theatrical legacy of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. Admittance was by donation, and the generosity of those who attended resulted in proceeds of nearly $500. The sum will be contributed to benefit the music and drama programs at Charles Hays Secondary.
Yet no prosaic veneration or pecuniary compensation can settle the debt of an audience to the artists responsible for the former’s enjoyment. On their courage alone, which they demonstrated by embracing this audacious project, the Charles Hays students merit universal respect. On their refinement of herculean effort into luminous and whimsical performances, the ensemble incited (in at least this patron) a zeal for more craft of this superb calibre.
Michael Gurney, Prince Rupert