The Festival renews its long-standing Gilbert and Sullivan tradition this season with The Pirates of Penzance. Directed by Ethan McSweeny, this new production begins previews at the Avon Theatre on May 3.
Mr. McSweeny made a dynamic Stratford debut in 2010 with the seductive Dangerous Liaisons. His directing credits elsewhere include Never the Sinner, for which he won a Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award, and The Best Man, for which he received a Tony nomination for best direction. He has helmed more than 60 productions of world premières, classics, revivals and musicals worldwide, and is the Artistic Director of the Chautauqua Theater Company in Chautauqua, New York.
“This piece has extraordinary wit and humour,” says Mr. McSweeny. “It’s a natural fit for Stratford because it requires actors with really strong language skills. The text is incredibly funny and needs to be heard and understood with a great deal of clarity.”
The operetta tells the hilariously improbable story of a dutiful young man named Frederic who, as a child, was mistakenly indentured to a band of pirates. On attaining the age of 21, believing that he has at last fulfilled his obligations to his shipmates, Frederic renounces their way of life and vows to set about seeking their downfall. He also falls in love with the beautiful Mabel. But when the pirates discover a hitherto overlooked technicality in the terms of his contract with them, Frederic feels himself duty bound to forsake both his mission and the woman of his dreams.
“When I look back over my tenure, I feel particularly proud of having brought Ethan McSweeny to Stratford,” says Artistic Director Des McAnuff. “Christopher Hampton, the playwright of Dangerous Liaisons, thought that Ethan’s production of that play was the best he’d ever seen, and I believe our legions of Gilbert and Sullivan fans can expect an equally revelatory experience with Pirates.”
“Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas have been favourites with Festival audiences ever since Tyrone Guthrie’s groundbreaking HMS Pinafore in 1960,” says General Director Antoni Cimolino. “Our innovative productions in the 1980s and 1990s won a huge following. Now once again we’re taking a fresh approach to this beloved repertoire that will surely inspire a whole new generation of G&S fans.”
This production features a stellar cast including Sean Arbuckle as the Pirate King, Kyle Blair as Frederic and Amy Wallis as Mabel.
C. David Johnson is Major-General Stanley, Gabrielle Jones is Ruth and Steve Ross is the Sergeant of the Police.
In creating their vision of the fanciful Victorian world in which the production is set, the design team drew inspiration from Steampunk, a genre of literature, art and fashion that incorporates elements of science fiction, fantasy and alternative history.
“As we searched for something that spanned the Victorian while still retaining a contemporary edge, we stumbled upon the Steampunk movement,” says Mr. McSweeny. “I was thrilled to learn more about these retro-futurists in our midst and to incorporate into the design parts of their glorious expression of neo-Victoriana through the lens of Jules Verne.”
The production’s artistic team also includes Musical Director Franklin Brasz, Choreographer Marcos Santana, Set Designer Anna Louizos, Costume Designer Paul Tazewell, Lighting Designer Howell Binkley, Sound Designer Jim Neil, Orchestrator Michael Starobin, and Arranger Mark Camilleri.