Arts & Culture

‘The Pirates of Penzance’ to delight SLO theater fans

Steve Cohen stars as the Pirate King in “The Pirates of Penzance.”
Steve Cohen stars as the Pirate King in “The Pirates of Penzance.”

Kindhearted pirates and beautiful maidens are set to take the stage in the popular comic opera “The Pirates of Penzance,” playing Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Cuesta College’s Cultural Performing Arts Center.

It’s the fourth production by Central Coast Gilbert and Sullivan, a local theater group dedicated to presenting the works of composer Arthur Sullivan and lyricist W. S. Gilbert.

Cuesta College music instructor Marcy Irving co-founded Central Coast Gilbert and Sullivan with Cassandra Tarantino, director of Cuesta’s North County Chorus, in 2012.

Irving said she has been obsessed with the works of Gilbert and Sullivan since she was a little girl. She attended her first Gilbert and Sullivan show, “H. M. S. Pinafore,” when she was only 3 years old.

Coincidentally, three of the people who took her to that performance — her father and two family friends — will appear in “The Pirates of Penzance” in the chorus.

Central Coast Gilbert and Sullivan has produced three operas so far: “H.M. S. Pinafore” in 2013, “The Mikado” in 2014 and “Iolanthe” in 2015.

According to Irving, “The Pirates of Penzance” was selected this year because 2016 is a leap year, which is a central theme in the opera.

The fifth collaboration between Gilbert and Sullivan, “The Pirates of Penzance” premiered at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City in 1879. It is considered one of their most popular operas.

As the opera begins, Frederic (Paul Osborne) is ending his apprenticeship with a softhearted band of pirates, having just turned 21. He was mistakenly signed up for this lengthy internship by his half-deaf nurse, Ruth (Hannah Slobodnik), who thought she heard his father say “pirate” instead of a ship’s “pilot.”

After leaving the pirates, Frederic stumbles upon a crowd of beautiful maidens and immediately falls in love with Mabel (Ashlynn Emerson), the daughter of Major-General Stanley (Rouvaishyana).

It is then brought to Frederic’s attention that he was born on February 29, which means he technically only has a birthday every leap year. Since his servitude to the pirates expires on his 21st birthday, he must remain with them another 63 years.

Frederic finds himself torn between his sense of duty to the pirates and his love for Mabel.

Contributing to the merriment and mayhem include the Pirate King (Steve Cohen) and his lieutenant, Samuel (Tom Villa), the Sergeant of Police (Tim Cleath) and Mabel’s sisters: Edith (Kezia Liu), Kate (Kate Kravets) and Isabel (Marrietta Gillogly).

Compared to past Central Coast Gilbert and Sullivan shows, “The Pirates of Penzance” has a “bigger chorus with the best voices,” Irving said, featuring 14 men and 12 women. There’s also a live orchestra featuring local musicians — a rarity for local theater productions,

The show features one of the most famous Gilbert and Sullivan songs, “Modern Major-General,” sung with a rapid pace and tongue-twisting style. Song lyrics will be projected on stage to help the audience sing along.

Irving takes a traditional approach to directing and staging “The Pirates of Penzance.”

“It is not a modernized version of the show,” Irving said, adding that the audience will enjoy the brightly colored costumes designed by Laura Pryzgoda and set design by Bob Knowles.

Jennifer Martin serves as conductor and Tarantino is chorus master. The rest of the crew, which also worked on last year’s production of “Iolanthe,” includes choreographer Julia Corbett and lighting designer Richard Jackson.

Irving’s enduring love of and devotion to Gilbert and Sullivan is bound to be reflected in the show.

“I want the audience to leave the theater feeling happy and joyous,” she said, not unlike that little girl who saw her first Gilbert and Sullivan opera many years ago.

‘The Pirates of Penzance’

7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday

Cultural and Performing Arts Center, Cuesta College, 7400 Highway 1, San Luis Obispo

$15 to $20

805-546-3936 or