Poor Frederic. While still a babe in arms, his nursemaid Ruth misheard an instruction to apprentice him to a pilot – an altogether worthy profession, charged with guiding ships safely in and out of harbour channels – and apprenticed him, instead, to a pirate.
It’s the crux of the young man’s dilemma in W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s droll Victorian operetta, The Pirates of Penzance.
While he’s pondering the imminent end of his term of servitude, due to expire on his 21st birthday, his colleagues – a theoretically bloodthirsty crew of freebooters – are marauding in the distinctly unlikely surroundings of a genteel resort in Cornwall.
The charmingly ludicrous souffle has been delighting audiences ever since its debut in 1879.
Now the reprehensible crew is set to invade another coast – The Coast Capital Playhouse in White Rock, to be exact – in Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s latest production, running from April 29 to May 9.
The Pirates of Penzance brings together an ace creative team – including artistic director Jaqollyne Keath, musical director Timothy Tucker, choreographer Carol Seitz – and a winning cast of new faces and longtime favourites eager to capture all the potential of the material.
Producer Dann Wilhelm takes the role of reluctant apprentice Frederic, while
Lyn Verra-Lay, also wearing the hat of assistant producer, has one of her biggest on-stage roles as Ruth, the nurse-turned pirate maid of all work. As the only woman in Frederic’s life thus far, she said, Ruth is now seriously contemplating becoming his fiancee.
Complicating her romantic plans are seaside resident Major General Stanley (Jim McGroarty), the “very model of a modern major general,” and his numerous daughters (technically “wards in chancery”) including the fair Mabel (Terelle Klose), who wins Frederic’s heart.
Also featured are James Walker as the pirates’ lieutenant Samuel, Brad Dewar as the sergeant of the uniformed ‘bobbies’ dedicated to defeating the local outbreak of piracy, and Kathleen McGroarty, Katherine Lozada and Melissa Paras as daughters Edith, Kate and Isabel.
There is one sad note to the production: Reginald Pillay, originally announced in the gift role of the Pirate King, had to drop out of the show – but, fortunately another regional theatre stalwart, Arne Larsen, has agreed to step into the part at short notice.
‘Pirates’ is a notable show for numerous reasons, Verra-Lay said, noting that the gala performance on May 1 will include a reunion of cast members from the 1995 FVGSS production, marking the 20th anniversary of the passing of musical director and performer Gary McGill, whose name lives on in an annual scholarship award presented by the society.
Verra-Lay’s husband, Steve, will also be playing bass with the orchestra for the production, she said.
“He said he wanted to be there for me – he’s been working very hard at it.”
But most notable for her is the chance to finally play a lead, after years of chorus roles and producer chores – as well as serving on the FVGSS board.
“I came to the society in 1988 – I said ‘that looks like fun,’ ” she remembered. “Eight years later I became president.”
But she has to admit that she’s thrilled to be playing Ruth.
“I waited until I was over 50 to get into a lead,” she said. “I’ve always said I don’t need to see my name in the program – but it is a lot of fun to be on stage, a lot more fun than I remember. I have to go to the gym to keep up my stamina. Just polkaing with James Walker is enough to wear anybody out.”
One of the enjoyable elements of doing a show with FVGSS is the humourous dedication of people who are virtually – literally, in some cases – family, Verra-Lay said.
“I wouldn’t have raised my kids in this ‘family’ if I didn’t think it was a gas.”
Wilhelm is also a long-time society member, and also a former president.
“I started when I was 17 and 21 years later, I’m still here,” he said, noting that he first played Frederic in 2003.
“I was very familiar with the role, so I thought it would be just a matter of going in and polishing – but it’s hard. All this physical movement is taking a toll on the body.”
But he’s also enjoying working with people he’s known for years, he said, adding that he has also encountered many in White Rock Players shows and with other companies.
“We’ve worked with all these different groups – but this is like a super cast. I’m very happy to be working with people who are all-stars of different areas.”
Coast Capital Playhouse is located at 1532 Johnston Rd. For tickets and showtimes, call 604-536-7535 or visit www.whitrerockplayers.ca