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Setting the Scene

The History of Pirates of Penzance

Pirates of Penzance is a story filled with songs, puns, lies, more puns, paradoxes, hearing deficits, leap years, duties, Queens, and of course, pirates. As the audience follows Frederic throughout his journey as a former indentured pirate, we learn about the immoral yet oddly dutiful life of a pirate. Our modern audience is familiar with pirates from the modern interpretation of the peg-legged, parrot wearing, skull and crossbones buccaneer who speaks with many "Arrr's" and "Scallywags." Yet, how accurate is this depiction?

The act of piracy pervaded the trading world for hundreds of years. As civilization flourished and sea-fare trading encompassed global economics, pirates scoured the seas looking for gold, jewels and any other loot they were able to, well, loot.

Some pirates were associated with particular countries and agreed to share their stolen goods with the government for whom they worked. Other pirates were unassociated and ransacked solely to accumulate wealth. At one point, an entire piracy nation was actually set up in former Cilicia, a present part of Turkey. Queen Elizabeth reined during the Golden Age of Pirates, a time when pirates were encouraged to plunder in honor of England. The Golden Age began in the early 1500s and ext~nded into the 1790s. However piracy was common into the 1800s around the world, so the original audience of Pirates of Penzance were all too familiar with the infamous "career." Although no longer widespread, pirates are still in existence today, attacking private and commercial boats in certain maritime locations.

Our Pirates

In Pirates of Penzance, we see pirates depicted as men full of duty. While the pirates loot and scheme, they feel a compelling sense of camaraderie among each other and an ultimate duty to a life of piracy. Not even true love can break the duty-bound union of a pirate to his vocation. In contrast to the police in the production who are portrayed as small-minded and dubious, the pirates seem to be truly noble men. The show allows the audience to question how a sense of duty and a life of crime can coexist. Is duty always noble or does it matter what the duty entails?

All action takes place at the time of Queen Victoria's reign

Act I: Morning. A Seashore on the coast of Cornwall in south-western Great Britain

Act II: Evening. A ruined Gothic chapel on the estate of Major General Stanley

Publication Date







The Masque


Theatre and Performance Studies


Producer's Corner

Welcome to The Masque of La Salle's first performance of the 2010-2011 season, Pirates of Penzance!

We hope you enjoy this classic by Gilbert and Sullivan piece about sentimental pirates, goofy policemen, a nursemaid hard of hearing and a boy apprenticed to be a pirate. While the show is over a century old, we believe this updated version of the timeless comedic operetta will tickle your funny bone and at the caliber you've come to love and expect from the Masque.

For his second debut with the Masque, we are pleased to welcome back director Neill Hartley to share his guidance and teaching with the cast and crew along with veteran music director, Michael Borton and last but not least, choreographer, Nancy Kantra. We are grateful for the wisdom and energy that all three collectively have brought to the production.

Much gratitude and thanks go out to all of the departments on campus that play a part in making this production possible: Administrative Services, University Advancement, University Communications, The Dean of Students Office, Physical Facilities, The Programming Center and Multimedia Services. The Executive Board would especially like to thank our faculty advisor, Dawn Wanner, for the strong pride she has in her students and her dedication to helping us make each show run smoothly.

Carolyn Holl
Producer and President

Director's Corner

Pirates of Penzance features music by Arthur Sullivan and a libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It was the fifth Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration and the only one to have its official premiere in the United States. In 1879, American law offered no copyright protection to foreigners. After their previous opera, H.M.S. Pinafore, was a hit in London, many American companies quickly mounted unauthorized productions, often taking liberties with the text and paying no royalties to the creators. Gilbert and Sullivan hoped to stop this from happening again by mounting the first production of their next opera in America, before others could copy it. They opened the production themselves on Broadway prior to its run in London. They also delayed the publication of the score and libretto, and oversaw the operation of the U.S touring companies of the show. In so doing, Gilbert and Sullivan succeeded in keeping the profits from the production for themselves. It is interesting to note that the title is also an indirect reference to the "copyright" pirates that they fought.

The opera premiered in New York City in December 1879 and opened in London on April 3, 1880. Since that time there have been thousands of professional and amateur productions presented around the world. In 1981, a Broadway revival directed by Joseph Papp ran for 787 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Revival.

Pirates of Penzance is one of the most frequently referenced works of Gilbert and Sullivan. The Major General's Song in particular, has been the frequent subject of parody both in political commentary as well as entertainment media. The song has been referenced on television shows including Frasier, The Simpsons, Home Improvement and The West Wing.

Film references to Pirates of Penzance include Kate and Leopold, An American Tail, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Pretty Woman, where Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) covers a social gaffe by prostitute Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts), who comments that the opera La Traviata was so good that she almost "peed [her] pants", by saying that she had said that she liked it almost as much as "The Pirates of Penzance."

The show is also referred to in the popular video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, in which a casino is called "Pirates in Men's Pants."

Neill Hartley

Rights Statement

Pirates of Penzance