Pirates of Penzance to Premiere at Porter Theatre

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Emmalee Wetzel

“The Pirates of Penzance” first premiered in New York City, Dec. 1879. In “Pirates,” Frederic, the male lead, has just been released from an apprenticeship to a band of benevolent pirates. He meets and falls in love with the major-general’s daughter, Mabel. Hilarity ensues when Frederic’s pirate friends come ashore with him.
John Blondell, director and chair of theater arts, and Michael Shasberger, music director and Adams chair of music, cast the show after auditions in early September. The company was taken from an array of Westmont students from all departments, but mostly music and theater students.
Blondell chose to produce “Pirates” for several reasons. First, he realized that he has “a multi-talented bunch of students in the department right now, who are real actors and real singers.” The musical aspect also draws in students from the music department and other students who would not usually participate. Blondell also wanted to produce something light-hearted, and believed the department can make something “great on all levels.” The comic dimension of the piece and fantastic score were both determining factors as well.
The prospect of a comic operetta like “Pirates” is “new and fresh and also rather scary” to Blondell.
“I like to breathe fresh life into plays that we think we know. I wanted to make something fresh and vibrant, and that was satisfying on dramatic, theatrical and musical levels,” Blondell said.
Blondell and Shasberger created a cast that fulfills and balances both the musical and dramatic needs of the show.
Blondell said the casting gives opportunities for the performers to do a variety of things within the show. “Everyone is on stage for much of the show, and what has resulted is a dynamic, theatrical and very talented company of performers,” he said.
The casting of students included Megan Silberstein, a fourth-year music major, as Mabel, the female lead.
On the subject of putting the show together, Silberstein said, “Dr. Blondell encouraged us to step away from the 19th century conventions usually associated with this piratical tale, and to instead focus on the show's fundamental drama.”
She said that the company was inspired to disregard what had already been tried with the show before. “It enabled us to discover the intricacies of the show, the weight of the drama, and bring our own ideas to the characters which we aim to faithfully present onstage,” said Silberstein.
Blondell likewise said the show will differ from previous performances, which focused on late 19th-century theatrical conventions and visual styles. He said, “Those productions can get rather artificial, somewhat goofy and can become parodies of situations rather than the situations themselves.”
He wanted to develop something that focused on the music and exposes some of the reality of the situations rather than parodies. Blondell said he wants something “fresh, vivid and expertly performed.”
Blondell shared his excitement and high expectations of “Pirates,” saying, “I think that people will be amazed at the performance level of the piece. The show looks and sounds very mature and professional, and I have been blessed to work with such a great group of faculty and guest collaborators and student artists.”
The show, Silberstein said, “is a must-see, because it has something for everyone. It will delight an audience of diversified tastes with its drama, humor, music, dancing and artful presentation.”
She said that the atmosphere and “comically tragic circumstances” in which the characters find themselves are mesmerizing, and the “fusion of musical virtuosity with dynamic characters is magical.”
The “Pirates” production will feature a live on-stage orchestra chosen from the Westmont Orchestra. Shasberger said, “Having live musicians gives the actors on stage the opportunity to be more spontaneous as they react with the orchestra rather than being constrained to a tape.”
Shasberger believes student participation in the orchestra will be beneficial to all. He said, “It is a great experience for our student musicians every bit as much as it is for our student actors.”
On the subject of the musical style, Shasberger said, “Experiencing Gilbert & Sullivan for those who are interested in musical theatre is rather like experiencing Shakespeare for those who like literature.” He said “Pirates” is one of the most well-loved examples of their work, and should not be missed.
In a final word from Silberstein, “Our production is unique and personal. Please come to the pirate's lair, affectionately known as Porter Theatre, and find out for yourself!”
“The Pirates of Penzance,” a two-act Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, opens at Westmont’s Porter Theater, Oct. 17. It continues on the 18 and 19, 23 and 26–27. Tickets are only $10 for students and $15 general admission.


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