Before Captain Jack Sparrow sailed the Caribbean Sea, before Captain Hook met Peter Pan (and a ticking crocodile), the original gangsters of maritime comedy plied the colder waters of the English Channel.
Yes, they were “The Pirates of Penzance,” and this June they sail back into Evanston’s Cahn Auditorium as Music Theater Works kicks off its 38th season.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s hilarious and tuneful musical farce has been a hit with audience since its premiere in 1879, equally at home in opera houses and Broadway theaters. Its centennial New York revival, starring Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt, was ultimately immortalized on the big screen.
Music Theater Works artistic director will stage the new production. “It’s my fourth ‘Pirates,’” he laughs. Indeed, he directed the show in Evanston back in 2009, when Music Theater Works still went by its old name, Light Opera Works. “Of course, every time you repeat a show, you hope the new one is going to top whatever you did before, and I’m pretty confident about this one!”
According to Hogenmiller, his ace in the hole on the new “Pirates” is the group of performers he has been able to assemble. “It’s an all-star cast!” A bold claim, but it is one that holds water. Familiar stars from many Music Theater Works productions fill every leading role.
Chicago stage legend James Harms, unforgettable as Cervantes in the company’s “Man of La Mancha,” takes the role of the Major General, whose tongue-twisting entrance song inevitably brings down the house.
Larry Adams, whose performances in “South Pacific,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” and “The Sound of Music,” among others, have made him a favorite leading man, will be the rollicking Pirate King. His credentials as a buccaneer cannot be in doubt, given his gleeful turn as Captain Hook in last season’s “Peter Pan.”
Ruth, the slightly scatter-brained nursemaid who unwittingly sets the plot in motion, will be played by the versatile singer-actress Nancy Hays, who embodied the title role of the company’s 2016 “Mame” in grand style.
Cecelia Iole and Ben Barker.
Much of the loveliest music in “The Pirates of Penzance” goes to the young lovers Frederic and Mabel. Ben Barker and Celia Iole, who set off vocal fireworks starring in last season’s Leonard Bernstein classic, “Candide,” make a welcome return to the Music Theater Works stage as the conflicted pirate apprentice and his faithful lady love.
Even the smaller roles feature big talent; for example, Samuel, the Pirate King’s trusty sidekick, is company comedy stalwart Cary Lovett, so memorable as Sancho Panza in “Man of La Mancha,” Alfred P. Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” and Nicely-Nicely Johnson in “Guys and Dolls.”
“What did I tell you?” asks Hogenmller. “It’s an all-star cast!”
Music Theater Works’ “The Pirates of Penzance,” staged by the company’s artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller, with music director Linda Madonia leading a cast of 29 and a 26-piece orchestra, will run June 9 to 17 at Evanston’s Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St. For tickets, call (847) 920-5360 or visit www.MusicTheaterWorks.org.