I’ve done a lot of shows in my capacity as a director. Musicals, comedies, dramatic plays, one-man (or woman) shows. They’ve all taught me things—about how to work with others, how to solve a variety of problems, and how to tailor even the most familiar stories into something unique to the cast and audience. Each production changes me, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without those experiences. There are shows that I don’t think I’ll ever touch again based on the way things worked out, and others that I cannot wait to try again—either because it went so well or because I have ideas on how to do them differently.
Having said all that, my favorite production to date has been the summer we did The Pirates of Penzance. I saw it when I was young and fell in love with the music. It was my first exposure to Gilbert and Sullivan, and I don’t think I’ve ever looked back or had a question about what I wanted to do with my life since. It was funny and moving, and incredibly catchy; it had all the elements of a great story—the beautiful maiden, the dashing hero, the interfering Pirate King. Love and romance mixed with sword-fighting and clever wordplay. That’s pretty hard to beat. The “Major-General” song is perhaps my favorite piece of music ever performed. It is challenging to perform, for sure, and when it’s done well it both inspires and delights an audience. I’m smiling just thinking about it.
When we chose this particular opera to perform, we were looking at very possibly the best class ever enrolled in our summer program. We had many talented students within the perfect age range to put on the show. We did borrow a few talented adults for a few roles (like that of Ruth and the Major-General), but the students were—hands down—the stars of the show. We had a lovely and talented Mabel who was the perfect accompaniment to our sweet natured, duty-bound Frederic. An added bonus was that Mabel had several friends who were convinced to play her sisters onstage without much convincing, and turned out to be decent singers in their own right. Our Pirate King was both charming and believable, a difficult combination for the villain of our story.
The song that brought down the house, though, was “With cat-like tread” and it wasn’t hard to understand why: the kids we had playing the pirates certainly hammed it up when they were ‘treading’ around the stage. They were supposed to be fairly incompetent pirates, after all, who let their victims go the moment they cried “orphan!” They would crack themselves up in rehearsals but managed to hold it together during performances. I have to say, though, I bet even the people sitting in the very back row could see their wide smiles.
I was so glad that we had a warm response to the show; not just from the cast but from the audience as well. It made me really glad that we chose this particular production, and since it was so near and dear to my heart, it felt like an especially sweet success.