Ahoy mateys and landlubbers alike

‘Pirates of Penzance’ sails into Historic Iao Theater for spring run

Gary Leavitt (from left), Laura Vo, Jamie Wilcox, Kiegan Otterson, Stefani Peterson, Chloe Chin and Leighanna Locke will keep audiences laughing during the Maui OnStage production of “The Pirates of Penzance.” Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, opening Friday and running through March 17 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets are $20 to $40. For tickets or more information, call 242-6969 or visit online at www.mauionstage.com. Jack Grace photo

A band of raucous pirates. A pair of star-crossed lovers. And an audacious pirate king.

If that sounds enticing, then Maui OnStage’s all-new revision of “The Pirates of Penzance” will have you at “ahoy.”

“The Pirates of Penzance” had swashbuckling down to an art long before Captain Jack Sparrow — and even Captain Hook. Gilbert and Sullivan’s two-act comic opera premiered in New York City in 1879 and was an instant hit.

After delighting audiences and critics in the U.S., it opened in London in 1880, where it ran for 363 performances.

In 1980, Joseph Papp put a contemporary twist on “The Pirates of Penzance” and brought it to the Delacorte Theater in New York City’s Central Park. That led to a 1981 Broadway revival, which ran for 787 performances and garnered Tony Awards for Best Revival, Best Direction of a Musical (Wilford Leach) and Best Actor in a Musical (Kevin Kline), as well as the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical.

The Broadway show inspired a 1983 film adaptation starring Kline, Linda Ronstadt and Angela Lansbury. Today, “The Pirates of Penzance” is one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most-played — and most crowd-pleasing — operettas.

Set in 1877 during the reign of Queen Victoria, the story follows the young pirate Frederic, who is bound by contract to serve the Pirate King as an apprentice until he turns 21. On the day of his 21st birthday, Frederic, who has disavowed the pirates’ way of life, informs the Pirate King that he’s going to call it quits. But there’s one problem: Frederic was born on Feb. 29, and because he technically has a birthday just every four years, he learns he’s “only five and a little bit over.” As a result of this leap-year loophole, the Pirate King will not set him free for another 63 years.

As if that weren’t complicated enough, Frederic has also fallen head over heels in love with the fair maiden Mabel, who agrees to wait for his “other” 21st birthday — in 1940. Adding to the comical chaos are blundering British bobbies, Mabel’s gaggle of sisters and her father, the fastidious Major-General Stanley, who does not want a pirate for a son-in-law. Will Frederic and Mabel find their happily ever after? Well, you’ll have to see the show to find out.

And if you think you’ve seen it all before, think again — this is not your great-grandparents’ “The Pirates of Penzance.”

In this never-seen-before revision, the 140-year-old operetta gets a 21st century update, while remaining faithful to Gilbert and Sullivan’s original plot and score. In the same vein as Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” and Monty Python’s “Spamalot,” the Maui OnStage adaptation promises non-stop hilarity that will resonate with modern audiences.

Last summer, Michael Pulliam, curator at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku, took the helm as director of the production. Before he set out to craft a revision, Pulliam viewed several versions of “The Pirates of Penzance,” both online and on DVD. He and musical director Robert E. Wills ultimately settled on the 2012 Sydney Opera House production as the version to guide their vision. Then Pulliam sat down to rewrite and update scenes, peppering the public domain script with contemporary references, fourth-wall breaches, physical comedy and more laugh-out-loud gags than he can count. The script received a further revision once the show was cast with each actor contributing to the final version.

The 18-member cast includes Kiegan Otterson as Frederic; Leighanna Locke as Mabel; Gary Leavitt as the Pirate King; Dale Button as Major-General Stanley; Marsi Smith as Ruth, the pirates’ maid-of-all-work; Rueben Carrion as Samuel, the Pirate King’s first mate and Joseph Schumacher as the sergeant of police. The fast-paced musical is packed with a number of hey-I’ve-heard-that-before songs, including “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General,” “Climbing over Rocky Mountain,” “Poor Wandering One,” “When the Foeman Bares His Steel” and “With Cat-Like Tread, Upon Our Prey We Steal.”

Apart from the revised script, Pulliam dialed up the show’s originality with some must-see “theater magic.”

“There’s a lot of eye candy,” he said. And there are plenty of laughs, too. “It moves very quickly. There’s a joke every 10 seconds — finding them is kind of like a treasure hunt. It’s a roller-coaster ride of comedy.”

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