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'Pirates of Penzance' ready for swashbuckling at Peoria Players

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When one thinks of opera, heavy drama sung by men and women with unbelievably wondrous voices might immediately come to mind.

Enter “The Pirates of Penzance,” the Gilbert & Sullivan opera with music that is beautiful but with lyrics that are equally as funny. It is an operatic comedy that allows its audiences the chance to laugh without the worry of bloodshed from the sword fight or the death of a central character in order to complete the story.

It is the next offering at Peoria Players Theatre, opening Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the theater at 4300 N. University St. and continuing through March 22. Described by the theatre as a “topsy-turvy tale of love and duty,” this opera promises to be as entertaining as any musical despite its age, having debuted on Broadway in 1879, said director Laura Garfinkel.

“We want our audiences to have fun at this show. We hope they are immensely entertained and we believe they will be. It is such a fun show,” she said before a recent dress rehearsal.

“It hasn’t been done around here for a while and it’s a perfect show for families. It’s very G rated and just good fun. Pirates are always fun, then you have the beautiful ingénue and the bumbling police. We have sword fights, gorgeous sets, the gorgeous music of Gilbert and Sullivan… It will be a very entertaining show,” Garfinkel added.

She said she and music director Denise Adams decided to submit the show together because they’ve long wanted to work together. When Adams retired from teaching last year, the opportunity was there “and we decided, why not? It has been a lot of fun.”

A look at the cast list should bear that out. Lee Wenger portrays The Pirate King. “What else needs to be said, really? He is hysterical,” Garfinkel said. But the rest of the cast is filled with local musical and comedy veterans, with Steve Post portraying Major General Stanley, Larry Betzelberger as Samuel, Seth Katz as  the Sergeant of Police, and Shirley Salazar as Ruth.

Young talents Ross Thorpe and Mina Vogel portray Frederic and Mabel, respectively, and Garfinkel said audiences should “be prepared to be blown away” by their performances.

Also, she said, the voices that make up the daughters’ chorus, the pirates’ chorus and the police chorus “are all so fabulous. The singing is just great. That and the appeal of the gorgeous music and you see why this show is such a classic.”

A small orchestra made up of two violins, two flutes, and a cello sits in front of the stage, with Adams conducting while playing the piano.

The sword fight was carefully choreographed by two men training in stage combat. The set, including the pirate ship, was designed by Julie Wasson.

Some of the songs from “Pirates of Penzance” are known for their comedic value, including “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” and “I Am a Pirate King.” But Garfinkel cautioned that one should not expect this musical to be over-the-top with absurdity. “You could say it is written along the lines of an old fashioned melodrama, with fights between the pirates and the police, the old fashioned story of boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again at the end… Those are in there, of course. But the cast plays their roles straight up; they are just funny because it’s a funny show and they are a talented group,” she said. “We have amazing talent in this town.”

The very premise shows that. The show focus on Frederic, who has been raised as an apprentice to a band of kind-hearted pirates, yet feels he must tell the group that when his apprenticeship is completed he will be obligated to work to eradicate them. Then, he is told his apprenticeship is supposed to last until his 21st birthday and since he was born on Feb. 29, he only has a birthday every four years. Thus, he is led to believe his apprenticeship will last until he is in his 80s.

Show times for “The Pirates of Penzance” are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, then again on March 19, 20 and 21. Matinees are scheduled at 2 p.m. March 15 and March 22.

Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for those 18 and under. To purchase tickets call (309) 688-4473 or visit


About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).