Ethington Season Sets Sail With a Winning ‘Pirates’
By Doug Carroll
Like an old friend who has been away for too long, the College of Fine Arts and Production formally reintroduced itself to Grand Canyon University over the weekend with the premiere of the high-spirited Gilbert and Sullivan musical “The Pirates of Penzance.”
“Pirates,” GCU’s first theatrical production in four years, is the perfect choice by Dean Claude Pensis to kick off the much-anticipated Ethington Theatre season — and some old friends are the reason. Eight GCU alumni are members of the cast, filling several prominent roles and lending a presence that only stage experience can bring.
Before an appreciative full house on Saturday, Aug. 28, the performances of alumni Michael Kary (Major-General Stanley), Scott Campbell (the Pirate King), Joanie Colson (Ruth), Amy Runte-Wyatt (Mabel) and Mitchell Wyatt (Sergeant of Police) reminded the audience of Ethington’s glory days as the home of high-quality theatre on Phoenix’s west side.
However, “Pirates,” which concludes its run with three shows next weekend, is no mere nostalgia trip. It signifies a passing of the torch to the next wave of theatre and music students at the University, a group that appears to be loaded with promise.
“Pirates” tells the story of Frederic, mistakenly apprenticed as a boy to a band of pirates by his nurse, Ruth. Frederic, under the impression that his indentured service is almost done, makes plans to leave the pirates and vows to exterminate them. This band of ne’er-do-wells has more bark than bite, however. They’re goofy guys you’d like to go bowling with, and indeed a bowling trophy is one of the Pirate King’s prized possessions.
Although Ruth pines for a future with Frederic, the young man’s eye is caught by a group of girls who are wards of Major-General Stanley — and he is smitten by one of them, Mabel. With the pirates seizing the girls and threatening marriage en masse, the Major-General intervenes, lying that he is an orphan to play on the gang’s sympathies and head them off.
Because Frederic was a leap-year baby, born on Feb. 29, he has had only five actual birthdays, a fact that the Pirate King and Ruth use to reel him back into service. As Mabel promises to wait for him, the police arrive and order the pirates to surrender in the name of Queen Victoria, which they do before finally being pardoned as “noblemen who have gone wrong.”
As the sweet and innocent Frederic, GCU senior Trevor Roberts holds his own onstage. That’s no easy task, especially when his tenor is matched in duets with the soprano of Runte-Wyatt, who brings operatic training to the role of Mabel. Junior Lauren Bailey shines as Edith, one of the Major-General’s girls, and her beautiful voice no doubt will grace future productions and concerts at GCU.
Any “Pirates” production probably rises or falls on the rendition of its best-known musical number, “The Major-General Song,” and Kary delivers it with the right blend of daffiness and bluster. (If you’ve never heard the song before, you’ll marvel at how Gilbert and Sullivan wrote rap in the 19th century.) The performance of Kary, who graduated from GCU in 1988 and has gone on to a fine career in the theatre, is a delight in every way and alone is worth the price of admission.
Campbell exudes the requisite swagger for the role of Pirate King, and Wyatt (the husband of Runte-Wyatt) plays the bumbling Sergeant of Police to maximum comedic effect.
The staging overseen by Assistant Dean Bill Symington and the costuming of Nola Yergen give the production a spot-on look, and Pensis’ direction — down to even the smallest of details — brings it all together magnificently.
“The Pirates of Penzance” resumes at Ethington Theatre with shows at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 3 and 4 and at 2 p.m. on Sept. 5. For tickets, call 602.639.8880 or visit the Ethington box office between the hours of 1 and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or at [email protected].
All photos courtesy of Tim Koors.