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'Pirates' retooled, set in a theme park

The Baltimore Sun

By putting a current spin on The Pirates of Penzance, Anne Arundel Community College Opera may well transform students and other young audience members into Gilbert and Sullivan devotees.

This production, which opens Friday for a two-weekend run, is even more accessible than the operas presented in past seasons, though all gained relevance by changing location and period.

The Bartered Bride was transported to Maryland's Eastern Shore and The Elixir of Love was set in a 1930s village in Tennessee. Opera purists may scoff, but the formula works well in terms of attracting a young audience who find this environment comfortable.

"One of the most important things we do at Opera AACC is turn on an entirely new generation of performers and audience members," said AACC coordinator of music Doug Byerly, who serves as producer and general director for this production.

Noting the college's commitment "to strong arts," Byerly stressed how important it is "having seasoned professionals mixed with students and community members."

Not only does this combination of professionals and students produce a worthy product, but AACC Opera founder Byerly notes: "We have a lot of fun doing what we love to do as we work together and strive for the best performance."

Of this production, Byerly said, "We have created a collaborative environment where all of the artists can maximize their talents. Working with a creative and supportive team that includes Peter Kaiser, who is the designer and technical director, and Joy Ajello, who is crew chief and box office manager, has been fantastic."

He called stage director John Bowen of Opera Vivente, who returns for his fifth Opera AACC show, "an absolute genius."

"This company has such a wonderful spirit about it, and it's enriching to see young artists grow and thrive in this environment," Bowen said during a break at rehearsal last week. "We have created a new production that challenges all of the artists, and yet there is something so connective about this company and this production."

Bowen has set Pirates in an imaginary theme park -- "D'oylyland" (D'Oyly Carte Opera performed Gilbert and Sullivan operas for 107 years) -- with new twists that include Theme Park Pirates, Major General Stanley's Academy of Dramatic Arts for Wayward Schoolgirls and even a guest appearance by Queen Elizabeth II. It's a sure bet that topical humor will be an integral part of this perennial favorite.

Considered by many to be the funniest operetta penned by Arthur Sullivan and William S. Gilbert, The Pirates of Penzance premiered in December 1879, their only work to debut in the United States. The story centers on soon-to-be-21-year-old Frederic, a pirate in training who wants to leave this stealing lifestyle and his fellow pirates who are led by a swashbuckling Pirate King. Raised by his nursemaid Ruth, who has been the only woman in his life, Frederic longs to explore life beyond the pirate ship. Frederic soon finds an island filled with many young girls -- the daughters of a bumbling major general. Among them is Mabel, who becomes Frederic's love.

The AACC Opera cast will feature Julie Hiscox, who impressed us as Musetta at AACC Opera's recent Puccini concert, in the role of Mabel. Playing pirate-in-training Frederic will be Hiscox's real-life husband, Frederic Ray. Byerly plays the Pirate King, and Bruce Elliot of WBAL radio plays Samuel. Baltimore actor Larry Ellinghaus plays the major general.

The orchestra will be conducted by Anna Binneweg, and choreography is by Tommy Parlon.

Performances will be at AACC's Pascal Center for the Performing Arts at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 2

Tickets are $20 general admission, $10 for seniors and students and $5 for AACC students. For reservations, call 410-777-2457.

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