Archikulture Digest

The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty

The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty

By Gilbert and Sullivan

Directed and Choreographed by Brian Vernon

Starring Terry Alfaro, J. Scott Browning, Rachel Davis, and Sara Hood

UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando FL</strong>

There’s plenty of fight left in this classic of Victorian social commentary, and it flares to life under director /choreographer Brain Vernon and his stellar student cast. The romance starts with the classic story of a boy and his nursemaid. We find Frederic (Alfaro) apprenticed to Pirates instead of Pilots by his well meaning but slightly deaf nursemaid Ruth (Davis). “Do your duty above all else!” rules the true Briton’s heart, and the pair stuck it out until his 21st year with a pillow-soft pirate pack. The Pirate King (James Rinaldi) never attacks anyone weaker than his crew, and they always free the orphans. His lieutenant Samuel (Carlos Aviles) expresses wonder at how many orphans populate the Royal Navy, but he, too is slave to duty. While Ruth has a weird longing for Frederic, he ditches her as soon as they hit shore and hooks up with Mabel (Hood); one of Major General Stanley’s (Browning) many daughters. She sings opera and he fights the pirates and the other daughters giggle, and everyone gets paired off except for Ruth and the General. That’s the number two rule – “Sex is never as important as class.”

Vernon plays down the social commentary and raises the bar for the singing and staging. Hood obviously has formal operatic training, and holds both the poses and the notes, especially in her wonderful duet with Frederic “Stay, Frederic, Stay”. Rinaldi and the pirate crew nearly keep up with “Oh, Better Far to Live and Die” and “With Cat Like Tread…” The second act features a galumphing police force, lead by a Sergeant of the Police (Nathan Smith) and his fearful men who tackle their roles with insane vigor of a Monty Python Sketch. Alfaro mixed boyish charm and more good vocals, and you wonder how he avoided talking this pirate crew into more honest employment during his service. Expectations are always high for the often parodied, but never topped “I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General” by the Major. As he sang the tune, Tom Lehrer’s chorus of “There’s Antimony, Arsenic, Aluminum, and Selenium…” stuck in my mind. If that was the only song in the show, the ticket would be worth the price.

Light opera mixes physical comedy, grand opera, and the music hall sensibility into a broadly appealing entertainment. Few Victorian era shows still engage the modern audiences as the societal norms they parody shift. But a few scripts have stayed fresh, and Penzance is one of the best. UCF chose wisely, and did Gilbert and Sullivan proud.

For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit


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