The comedies of Gilbert and Sullivan have been entertaining musical-theater audiences for more than a century with their theatrical misdirections, misunderstandings and ridiculous caricatures of public figures. For the next two weekends, the Performing Arts Department at Washington University will work to pull off one of the funniest and most popular operettas the British duo ever wrote with a production of The Pirates of Penzance.
The story revolves around an apprentice pirate, Frederic, whose apprenticeship is supposed to end when he reaches his 21st year. Though he loves the pirates individually, he cannot stand the career they have chosen and swears himself to their extermination after he is freed from his indentured servitude. Through some trickery of a good-natured fairy or a simple twist of fate, Frederic must return to the pirate fold because he was born in a leap year and his apprenticeship therefore binds him to the Pirate King until his 21st birthday, not his 21st year. Though this contract might not have held up in court, Frederic's sense of duty and his conscience demand that he fulfill the contract, regardless of how distasteful or abhorrent the chore might be. As the pirates appeal to his conscience, Frederic delivers information that condemns the man who was to have been his father-in-law, the Modern-Major-General.
The setting may be far removed from modern life, but the operetta's story continues to resonate: Laboring in a career you loathe and finding the strength to continue to perform well in a hostile environment remain all too pertinent, and who can dispute that life has twists and turns, that we may not end up where we hoped or dreamed? But whatever the travails, in both life and art we'll have a few laughs (and some ensemble pieces as well) along the way. Things will turn out all right, and with luck the hero will get the girl in the end.
The Pirates of Penzance is performed at 8 p.m. Oct. 22, 23, 29 and 30 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 24 and 31 at the Edison Theatre, on the Washington University campus. For tickets, call the box office at 965-6543.