After seven months of extensive rehearsal and preparation, Theatre De La Salle launched its 65th anniversary revival of Gilbert and Sullivan's musical farce The Pirates of Penzance on April 27 and was presented over two evenings and one matinee performance to incredibly enthusiastic audiences.
Theatre De La Salle's choice to stage a show originally composed as an operetta and first performed in 1879, was an obvious one: this was the first musical theatre production to make its debut in the newly-built De La Salle "Oaklands" auditorium in 1952.
Br. Andrew was a huge fan of the works of Gilbert & Sullivan, so under his direction, the De La Salle Light Opera Society (a precursor to Theatre De La Salle) presented The Pirates of Penzance, the first of five consecutive G&S musicals the school would showcase. It would be revived in 1959 by Br. Walter.
What better way to pay tribute to our original Lasallian thespians than by staging a revival of the first musical in Oaklands' history on the 65th anniversary of its premiere?
"This connection with the past is an invaluable aspect of a number of things we try to instill in our students every day," says Br. Domenic Viggiani, President of the College. "Respect for the heritage of which we are heirs creates an appreciation of the efforts of those gone before us who have helped to build our school community. I truly believe our students understand this part of the Del experience and place much importance on it. This musical production is very much part of the rich De La Salle theatre history."
It was exactly 65 years ago, from April 28-30, 1952, that a talented cast and crew of 94 stepped onto our stage and brought to life Gilbert's witty lyrics and Sullivan's memorable score - among the most valuable treasures of musical theatre history. The humour present in both words and music is infectious and timeless...and how can you go wrong with pirates?
Pirates conjure up images that have been with us for centuries: a white skull and crossbones on a flag of black silk; a parrot on the captain's shoulder; buried treasure; daggers clenched in teeth; walking the plank; peg legs and eye patches.
Pirates lived outside the law. Largely accepting their fate, they were determined to have an exciting life. Those lives, however, usually lasted no more than two or three years and often ended ignominiously at the end of a rope.
Over the last few months, it became evident that pirates are very much like student actors: frequently loud, overly-animated, and difficult to tame. They sometimes believe rules don't apply to them. At times they are "poor wandering ones," but more often they behave like "a frolicking band" in search of their next adventure. The students that took to the stage in this year's production all possessed endless creativity, uniqueness, nerve, and talent, and "varied piracy with a little burglary" by stealing the hearts of our audiences.
They have battled their own storms since our ship set sail in September, explored uncharted territory as singers and dancers, and banded together to fulfill their commitment to their fellow cast mates and to the show. I am incredibly proud of all our cast members and extend my heartfelt thanks to each one of them for taking this journey and making it such a memorable one.
It's not a secret that a ship requires a good captain and that the captain doesn't sail his ship alone, but relies on a hearty crew to ensure that the ship successfully reaches its ultimate destination.
I express my deep appreciation to Mr. Cherny and Mr. Labriola who are the best first mateys one could ask for and kept this ship afloat with their creative genius and to our visiting musical director Chris Tsujiuchi, whose musical talent and patience with children transformed our cast into operetta enthusiasts.
To the Administration, teachers, and support staff of the College for supporting our students' efforts; to Mr. Viotto, whose inaugural act with Theatre De La Salle was to launch our ship and help navigate us through rough waters; and to Mrs. Sibley, who takes her final journey with us as she sets her sails for new adventures.
My thanks to Michael Bailey, Jerry McGroarty, and David Byrne, who were, quite literally "all hands on deck" when it came to transforming stage to stern and to Melissa Ramolo, Carla Ritchie, Marlene McGroarty, Louise Debono, Jason Chellew, and Jessica Minervini for all their creative contributions below deck.
I am grateful for the behind-the-scenes commitment of our Stage Managers and crew, the makeup and costume personnel and technical team. A special thank you to the Grade 10 drama classes and student volunteers for their assistance and to the parents of our cast members for their love and encouragement. We extend our appreciation to the Parents Association for funding the stunning collection of costumes from Theatrix Costume House, and to all our official show sponsors, generous donors, fundraisers, and parent and staff volunteers, who, through their generosity and varied support, helped bring this pirate ship of ours safely to port.
Mr. Viotto witnessed his first musical at the College with this year's production. "I offer congratulations to the cast and crew for sharing their incredible talents, and bringing such pride to each of us as we watch their characters come alive on stage. I extend much gratitude to our producer, Mr. Luchka, for his tireless efforts and many hours spent pulling all the elements of the show together and for facilitating incredibly creative fundraising events and promotions. I offer great appreciation to Mr. Labriola and Mr. Cherny as they worked passionately in directing our young actors to make this musical such a tremendous success!"
The entire Pirates team was thrilled to welcome original cast members from the 1952 and 1959 De La Salle productions of The Pirates of Penzance, William Markle (Class of '56), Fr. Jerry Dunn (Class of '60), and John Burnes (Class of '60), who joined current cast members on stage in both male and female cameo roles. Even members of the Administration couldn't escape our pirates' clutches by falling prey to their swashbuckling savagery.
Frederic 1959 meets Frederic 2017: Fr. Jerry Dunn (Class of '60) returned to the stage 58 years after his performance in Pirates. He made a cameo alongside Nicholas De Souza (Class of 2017).
65 years after its premiere here at Del, The Pirates of Penzance continues to be the very model of a modern major musical and proves that Theatre De La Salle still holds an abundant treasure of talent waiting to be discovered.
This production has certainly reaffirmed that it is, indeed, a glorious thing to do this "theatre thing." To see highlights from the performances, view the slideshow below!