“The Pirates of Penzance” The Greatest Pirate Story Ever Sung



The Pirates of Penzance is a light opera that has been performed on thousands of stages from the time of its original writing in 1879. Created by Gilbert and Sullivan, it was later created into a movie that has become an all time favorite of mine. The story follows Frederic, a young man who finds himself accidentally apprenticed to a band of pirates until his 21st birthday. Frederic considers himself a slave to duty, and as such tells the band of pirates that, although he loves them like brothers, he finds it his duty that when he is released from his apprenticeship he will have to devote himself entirely to their extermination. The cast is led by Rex Smith, Linda Ronstadt, Angela Lansbury and Kevin Kline (Kline gives one of the best Pirate performances ever committed to film).
       The play is timeless, due to this fact the movie version differs very little from a stage performance. The sets are (sometimes to a fault) obviously fake; painted backdrops and exaggerated props add to the feeling that you could be watching an excellent stage production from the best seat in the house. Aside from the overture, which bursts forth with the most exciting themes from the movie, thus preparing the audience for what’s to come, the movie cuts out various characteristics common to a stage production. We don’t have to suffer through awkward pauses in the dark while sets are changed and there is no intermission, likewise the performances are polished and lines are not forgotten or fumbled. It is far superior to a stage production in the area of perspective. We, as the audience, are not subject to one single angle for the duration of the production. Modern film editing and cinematography allow us to see every action and reaction of the characters as close as any other movie. This factor is absolutely invaluable. The comedic timing of all involved (particularly Kline) is never squandered, but even in this format the movie warrants multiple viewings to witness all of the little quips and quirks of the various characters.
        The film is, of course, a musical. It takes on a very nautical feel early on, despite that the majority of the movie takes place on land. The band of pirates is pitted against various bands of civilized individuals, namely a wiry police constable and his cowardly deputies. Each group has their own themes that intermingle and change speed in regards to what is happening with the plot. The individual songs which take the place of nearly all dialogue is witty and just as funny as when this was originally produced. The story centers around a series of misunderstandings and simple minded mistakes, all of which are reflected in both the music and the lyrics. The production prides itself in its witty lyrics combined with the speed at which they are presented (using multiple songs as elongated tongue twisters), a testament to both performers and writers.
       The story centers on miscommunication so heavily that at times we find ourselves wondering (as the characters often do) what is going on. Lies lead to awkward confrontations, misunderstandings lead to apprenticeship to a pirate and identity is searched for, but almost never found. As I stated before, Kevin Kline gives an impeccable performance as the pirate king. He, for most of the film, presents himself as a fearless, masculine and ruthless leader of a band just as bloodthirsty as himself; only to find himself moved to tears by the song of an elderly gentlemen singing about his life as an orphan. The emotions shown by the characters are almost never mild, it is one extreme or the next.
        It should be noted that if you found yourself wanting to watch this, there is a stage production on DVD with most of the same actors. I would not recommend this, as you lose most of the things that make the movie so good. A stage production has limitations (though undoubtedly is incredible to see live) whereas a film production can smooth the rough edges and show you things in greater detail. the 1983 film version is the one to seek out, as it is nothing less than a comedic and musical romp. There are few films that I consider watching over and over, but this film has always been a pleasure to watch and listen to.
This entry was posted in musical.

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