The upcoming revival of “The Pirates of Penzance” by Ovation! Performing Arts Northwest is the perfect production with which to bookend co-founder/director Ron Milton’s time at the helm. It is the third time the company has put on the show — the first being their actual initial show on Bainbridge 15 years ago.
“We did it eight years ago and 15 years ago, it was the first show we did,” Milton said. “It’s kind of like full circle for me. I love the show and I like farce and comedy, and we really have pushed hard on the comedic side of this.”
The group’s continued success far outreaches the comparatively humble goals that led it to that first production, Milton said.
“This was an idea over a breakfast table,” he recalled. “Most small theater companies like this last three or fives years, and we’re still going strong after 15.”
Milton will step down as director after this show — having steered the company through nearly a thousand performances — citing health issues as the primary reason. His wife, co-founder Marijane Milton (who plays Ruth in “Pirates”) will stay on longer.
“She knows so much about the production,” Milton said. “I will stay on for a little bit to help my replacement out, and then they’re just going to have to find three or four more people to do what I was doing.”
“The Pirates of Penzance” is a musical comedy with lyrics by W.S. Gilbert and music by Arthur Sullivan. It has remained popular since debuting in 1879, being, along with “The Mikado” and “H.M.S. Pinafore,” one of the most frequently played Gilbert and Sullivan shows.
The story concerns Frederic (played in the Ovation! production by longtime group favorite Myriah Riedel), who, having completed his 21st year, is released from his apprenticeship to a band of rather tender-hearted pirates. He meets Mabel (Kelli McAuley), the daughter of Major-General Stanley (Gary Chambers) and the two fall in love.
Frederic soon learns however, that he was born on Feb. 29, and so, technically, he has a birthday only once each leap year. His indenture specifies that he remain apprenticed to the pirates until his “21st birthday,” meaning that he must serve for another 63 years.
Complications, hilarity and high seas hijinks ensue.
The show will feature an orchestra, musical direction by Reece Sauve’ and choreography by Philippa Myler.
The cast also includes Cade Strong, Giselle Vincent, Austin Smith, Margaret Johnston, Cailey O’Leary, Mollie Brislin, Todd Baylor, J.C. Cash, Thomas Clothier, Genna Johnson, Julie Johnson, Terry McAuley, Ellie Osburn, Ian Proffer, Peter Vosshall, Alex Douthart, Bella Hyde, Ava Jamrock, Paige Johnson, Grace Schmitt, Meghan Smith, Lyra Cromwell, Ian Proffer, Abby Vosshall and Nicole Washington.
“Pirates” opens at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, July 13, with shows at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, through Sunday, July 29 at the Bainbridge High School theater.
Tickets, $24 each ($22 for seniors and students and $19 for youth 12 and younger or military members, active or retired), are available at www.ovationmtb.com.
For this latest reincarnation of the beloved musical, Milton said he decided to lean heavy on the plot’s silliness, emphasizing the funnier aspects of the surprisingly contemporary century-old comedy.
“I chose it because I know it really well and there’s still some things I wanted to do with it,” he said. “Kind of break the mold a little bit and really play with it.”
Regarding the gender swap of the lead, Milton said it has only added another layer to the comedic proceedings to have Frederic played by a woman.
“Myriah’s a better guy than most guys are; she’s such a great actress,” he laughed.
As the original authors were looking to poke fun at the social stratification, cultural taboos and norms of England at the time, Milton said Riedel’s at times uber-macho Frederic is both timely and traditional.
“To have a woman playing a man flirting with a woman is really appropriate because she does unbelievable gestures upon gestures upon gestures that we overplay that show how ridiculous the whole courting thing is,” the director said.
It was important, Milton said, his last show not be a downer — no matter how brilliant a downer he might have chosen.
“I wanted to do something that was just a great rollicking time for the audience — and for me,” Milton said. “This is the end of 51 years of me working in theater.
“I’ve accomplished a lot and I feel good about walking away right now,” he added. “It’s been fun. A lot of work, but it’s been fun and that’s what theater should be.”
As they prepared to relocate the show from their practice space to the stage, several cast members shared thoughts about the longtime director, many specifically praising his professionalism and insistence of thorough, methodical rehearsals.
“This is my 14th show with Ron,” Riedel said. “I’m going to be very sad because I like that everything goes like clockwork, we get everything done really fast so that we can do the repetition. By the time you get on stage, you know it so well that if anything were to happen to mess [it] up, everyone is like a well-oiled machine.”
Co-star McAuley agreed, saying, “When you work with Ron you know you’re in good hands.
“He knows what he’s doing, he’s got his picture and you know things are going to move well,” she explained. “As an actor, knowing I’m going to come in and do a show with Ron? It’s going to be a great show.”
Milton’s process was likewise praised by his most intimate colleague as well.
“What I love about Ron’s process is — I’ve worked with lots of directors, and it’s not just because he’s my husband — Ron always gets a cast to the point where they have time to do repetition,” Marijane Milton said. “I’ve been in shows where you haven’t run the show until the night before you open, if that. Ron’s objective is to get enough repetitions in so we have time for discovery.”
Giselle Vincent, who plays the Sergeant of Police, is appearing in this, only her second Ovation! show, but already, she said, she has seen the benefits of Milton’s mentorship in her approach to acting.
“Being a newbie and being surrounded by all this experience, Ron and Reece were very patient with me, and I love the teaching environment because I learned so much — and I’m still learning from all these cast members,” Vincent said. “Knowing that this is Ron’s last show, I just wanted to take one more opportunity to work with him, because he helped me find this passion I never knew I had.”
Stepping in to the role of company director is island-based theater figure Tim Davidson, who will be helming the winter Ovation! show, “A Night of Andrew Lloyd Webber.”
“He’s very professional,” Milton said of his replacement. “When you hire somebody to replace you, you don’t hire yourself. You hire somebody that can bring something new that will also keep the same standards up and I think Tim will bring a great professionalism to the company and I think he’s crossover, he’ll bring people from Seattle. He’ll also bring people from Bainbridge Performing Arts, he’s done a lot of stuff there.”