The very model of a modern 'Pirates of Penzance'

I met recently with Mike Storie, producer and guiding light of the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society, for an interview in the Society's rehearsal hall on Dexter Avenue North. This warehouse location also serves as costume shop, administrative offices, storage facility and scene shop where scenic designer Nathan Rodda, abetted by a dedicated team of carpenters, painters, engineers and technicians, creates and builds the fabulous sets. For four months of the year, the warehouse is a hive of creative activity involving costumers, stitchers, cutters and designers. The facility is also shared with at least 20 other local community and high school theater production companies.

Storie, a modest man and a knowledgeable G&S buff, has been associated with the Society since 1968. This is his 10th year as producer, starting with "Iolanthe" in 1997. From 1987 to 1997, he was the editor of Paragraphs, the Society newsletter; he has also served as treasurer, trustee and vice president and president of the board. Storie, who was instrumental in taking the company to the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in Buxton, England, in 1996 and 1999, is also very proud of the production of "Pineapple Poll" and "HMS Pinafore" for the Society's 50th anniversary celebration.

Currently the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society is celebrating its 52nd season with a production of one of the most popular and silliest of G&S collaborations, "The Pirates of Penzance." The group last produced "Pirates" in 1998. Storie, director Christine Goff and music director Bernard Kwiram have brought together a very talented cast including some of the Society's favorites from past productions as well as several outstanding newcomers.

In addition to KIRO's Dave Ross, principals who are regulars with the Society include Christina Villareale, William J. Dar-kow, Scott Rittenhouse, Nancy Hebert, Angie Bart-tels and Cliff Watson. Impressive newcomers include Andrew Parks, who lends his powerful baritone to the Pirate King, and Jenny Shotwell and Carla Hildabrand - both Alan Lund Voice Scholarship winners - as Edith and Kate, respectively.

Kwiram conducts the Society's 27-piece orchestra and the cast of 40 singers. Nathan Rodda's set includes the classic ruined abbey plus a fully rigged pirate ship.

The interview left me eagerly looking forward to opening night, Friday, July 14 (so much so that I cancelled a Bastille Day celebration). Friday night was family night at the Bagley Wright Theater, and I was delighted to see so many families, ranging from youngsters to teenagers to grandparents, all ready to enjoy a wonderful evening of fun and frivolity.

We were not disappointed. The production was the best ever - effervescent, bright and full of fun.

The sets and costumes were absolutely fabulous; the acting, mime, choreography and all the comic stuff, presented with perfect timing. It moved from the sublime to the ridiculous in true Gilbert & Sullivan tradition. The music, singing and choral harmony were of the highest standard.

One of the highlights of the show was the descent of a huge, 12-by-10-foot, gilt-encrusted and ornately framed Queen Victoria Jubilee portrait. At this point Her Majesty could not help but be amused, as all the bad pirates were really noblemen in disguise and surrendered in Queen Vic-toria's name because they loved their queen.

Christina Villa-reale singing Mabel was particularly outstanding, using her beautiful voice to make the appropriate fun of grand opera, with all the trills, flourishes and bel canto twiddly bits. Incidentally, Villareale is no stranger to grand opera; she has had operatic training and performs many operatic roles. Visit her on the Web at

She was well matched by her hero Fredric, played by Scott Rittenhouse. Andrew Parks' acting and singing in his debut as the Pirate King were excellent. The same was true of William Darkow, a longtime veteran, displaying his great sense of humor, excellent diction and smashing British accent as his lieutenant with a parrot on his shoulder. The dozen or so constabulary (Keystone Kops) were hilarious, much to the delight of the younger members of the audience.

Last, but by no means least, the honorable David Ross as the modern Major General - making his entrance on a three-wheeled bicycle dragging a gold cannon - once again almost stopped the show with his patter song set on fast forward and the addition of a bit of up-to-date ad lib on the monorail and local government exploits. The chorus, and in fact everyone, gave a wonderful performance; you could tell they were thoroughly enjoying themselves, having a great rapport with the audience.

If you are already a G&S aficionado, I am preaching to the converted, but if you have never seen a G&S production and would like to enjoy comic musical theater at its best, suitable for the whole family, may I suggest you see "The Pirates of Penzance." Remaining performance dates are tonight through Saturday, July 19-22, and July 26-29 at the Bagley Wright Theater. Tickets are $29 for the general public, $25 for senior citizens and $12 for students. Evening performances start at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday matinees, at 2 p.m. For tickets, call the Society at 341-9612 or Ticketmaster at 292-ARTS, or visit the Society's Web site at for more information.

The Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society is a nonprofit, community arts organization dedicated to performing the works of Gilbert & Sullivan to the highest artistic standards. Founded in 1954, it offers true family entertainment at affordable prices. The Society is supported by member donations, ticket sales and local grants.

So enjoy an evening or afternoon of innocent merriment.


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