A community production of one of the most popular English-language operettas is reviving musical theatre on the Sunshine Coast.
The Pirates of Penzance will debut at St. John’s United Church in Davis Bay on March 1. The newly founded Coast Music Theatre Company plans at least a half-dozen performances involving a cast of 30 multigenerational singers accompanied by an onstage orchestra.
The script marks its 145th anniversary this year — the two-act work by Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert premiered to acclaim on Broadway in 1879.
“It’s a tonne of fun to do and it’s very accessible for all audiences,” said artistic director Sara Douglas.
Douglas joined two longtime collaborators — musical director Tom Kellough and choreographer Sylvain Brochu — to create the Coast Music Theatre Company, with the purpose of producing regular musical theatre productions on the Sunshine Coast. “If everything goes according to plan, we’ll do a show every year,” explained Douglas, “a community show in the wintertime and a semi-pro in the summer.”
For performers like Jen MacInnes, who plays Mabel, a high-born maiden besotted with a young pirate newly released from his swashbuckling apprenticeship, the production represents the return of a local tradition. MacInnes grew up in Gibsons and appeared with the Panto-Musica Society’s production of Mother Goose in 2006 before the pantomime ensemble disbanded three years later.
“I have often wished to be part of Gilbert and Sullivan in this capacity,” said MacInnnes. “It is one of the most complex pieces I’ve undertaken, which is wonderful.”
MacInnes sings with the A Cappella Strait choir and is one of several cast members involved with local ensembles. Mike Cronk, who as the Major-General performs tongue-twisting patter at breakneck speed (including the line “I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus / In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous”) is a member of the Suncoast Phoenix Community Choir.
Cronk belonged to a light opera group in the U.K. before emigrating to Canada; he appeared in a half-dozen pieces by Gilbert and Sullivan. “I’ve only ever been in the chorus before,” he said. “So this is a first [appearing in a solo role]. There’s a sense of fun, and everybody’s enjoying it.”
Cronk’s fellow chorister Janet Oxley portrays Ruth, a one-time nursemaid who erroneously enlists her young charge as a pirate instead of a pilot. “I listened to a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan when I was child,” Oxley said, noting that in a performance career of 30 years, this will be her first time appearing in one of the duo’s operettas. “It’s such lovely music and it’s unforgettable,” she added.
Derry Oshust, a graduate of the Canadian College of Performing Arts, welcomed the opportunity to return to the stage. “This is a good chance to get back into it, because I don’t know if much has been going on here musical theatre-wise lately,” Oshust said. Oshust’s character, Frederick, is torn by filial commitments to his buccaneer band and the life of respectability represented by his future father-in-law, Major-General Stanley. “I almost feel like he’s putting on his version of the storybook noble hero,” Oshust said.
The tender-hearted Pirate King, played by Seth Little, capitalizes on Little’s experience with Gilbert and Sullivan. As a teenager, he procured his first role playing Pooh-Bah in a production of The Mikado mounted by the North Shore Light Opera Society. “Ever since then it’s just been non-stop,” Little said.
In directing singers and dancers with a variety of backgrounds, Douglas compared the process to a slow-rolling snowball. “It starts off, and a little gets added each week,” she said, “and then all of a sudden, the growth is exponential. The cast is already becoming a community, and that’s so incredibly important.”
Six performances of The Pirates of Penzance are scheduled, on March 1, 2, 6 and 9 at 7 p.m. and March 3 and 10 at 2 p.m. All shows take place at St. John’s United Church in Davis Bay. Tickets for the family-friendly production are available for sale ($20) at Strait Music in Sechelt.