Opera Memphis’ The Pirates of Penzance 

Opera Memphis' general director Ned Canty likes to do things differently. With Gilbert & Sullivan's beloved buccaneer The Pirates of Penzance, he's leaning more on tradition. "We're playing this one very straight," Canty says, comparing it to Opera Memphis' Japanese video game-inspired production of The Mikado. "This one is about the Britishness of it," he says.

"Whimsey" is the word most often associated with G&S classics like The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore. It certainly fits Pirates, which tells the story of a young orphan who would be turning 21 and ending his arrrrpprenticeship to the pirate king, if he hadn't been born on February 29th.

click to enlarge Serious swashbuckling
  • Serious swashbuckling

Canty compares Pirates to Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition" sketch. "It's a direct descendent from the pirates, where you take this very fearsome group of people and make them kind of ineffectual and cuddly. These pirates never attack anybody weaker than they are, and they never attack an orphan. So everybody says they're an orphan and the pirates never make any money.

"We want to make sure it's generous enough," Canty says, describing a show overstuffed with comedy and dance. "It shouldn't feel like an inside joke shared with everybody. We want to make sure the comedy is nice and tight and the choreography is also nice and tight.

"And there's this one line," Canty says, offering Pirates as a momentary antidote to everyday outrage. "'Take heart, fair days will shine.'"

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