Tahlequah Daily Press


April 16, 2012

NSU musicians to combine for operetta

“The Pirates of Penzance” will take the stage April 27-28.

TAHLEQUAH — Long before Johnny Depp, or even Errol Flynn, gained fame as portraying pirates, audiences reveled at the adventures of “The Pirates of Penzance: or, The Slave of Duty,” by Gilbert and Sullivan.

 The comic opera, which debuted in New York City in 1879, soon became a hit in London and around the world. Over the years, it has been revived many times by major national and local companies.

 Vocal and instrumental musicians from Northeastern State University will again bring the pirates and their companions to life on the stage of the Tahlequah Municipal Armory Building April 27-28. The curtain will open at 7 p.m. each evening, and admission is $5 at the door.

 Although the Armory has been the scene of numerous Tahlequah Community Playhouse productions, this is the first time NSU will use the auditorium.

The presentation fulfills a dream by Dr. Norman Wika and Dr. Shannon Unger, both assistant professors of music. Unger is directing the production, while Wika arranged the orchestration and will conduct the musicians.

 While the majority of performers will be students, several community members also will play roles.

 “This is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve staged a full operetta production like this,” Wika said. “It’s a part of our music program that we want to grow.”

 He would like to see NSU present more operettas, operas, and music theater productions.

 Unger also wants to increase the number of operatic opportunities available to her students.

 The plot of “Pirates” develops the conflict between love and duty. Frederick, the hero, reaches his 21st birthday and at that time becomes free from his apprenticeship to a group of sympathetic pirates. He falls in love with Mabel, the daughter of a major general, and they plan to marry. The impediment arises when Frederick, a Leap Year baby born on Feb. 29, technically won’t be 21 for another 63 years. His sense of duty commits him to remain with the pirates, and Mabel faithfully agrees to wait for that date.

 Wika believes “Pirates” provides a good introduction to the musical comedy genre for students and community members alike. The songs are in English, the language in which they were written, and it’s easy to follow the action.

 “It’s light opera, it’s comedic. Musically, it’s accessible to people who might not be familiar with opera,” he said. “The overarching theme of the show is a struggle between love and duty.”

Unger chose “Pirates” because he has been involved in two previous productions of the show.

 “I selected Pirates of Penzance because the operetta is extremely funny, the dialogue is spoken rather than sung, and there is tremendous opportunity for our young singer-actors to begin to develop their acting skills in the comic operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan,” Unger said. “I also wanted to feature some of our very talented students in roles that would showcase the wonderful singers they are becoming.”

 Perhaps the best-known song from the production is the “Major General’s Song,” where the character boasts, “I am the very model of a modern major general.”

 “That’s one of the show stoppers,” Wika said.

 Dr. Robert Daniel, associate professor of music, will sing the role of Major General Stanley.

 “He’s very funny in that role,” Wika said.

 Other familiar numbers include “When the Foreman Bares His Steel” and the main soprano piece, “Poor Wand’ring One.”

 Community members participating include Shawn Arthur, who will play the Pirate King; Park Medearis, the police sergeant; and Michael Peters of Tahlequah High School, who performed the set design and who will act as technical director.

 Other musicians include 10 instrumental students and 14 vocal music students from NSU, and Timothy Bradshaw from THS. NSU student Alicia DeMillier is choreographer.

 Rehearsals for the production started in January. Unger, Wika and the musicians are putting the finishing touches on the operetta. Unger said she believes audiences will enjoy the show.

 “Live theater is exciting; it is never passive or stale because it is being created before your eyes,” she said. “This offers a tremendous opportunity to performers and audience alike to fully engage in a communal experience that enhances our understanding of what it means to be alive. Whether it is drama or comedy, live theater is magical, and you need to have that experience!”

 Wika said the operetta is something Unger has really wanted to do, and he agreed that it’s a good addition to the opportunities for NSU music students.

 “We’ve had opera scenes, but it’s been sometime since we’ve had a full opera production,” he said.

 Unger believes putting on “The Pirates of Penzance” will be an excellent learning experience for the students.

 “My primary goal in this production is that our students would begin to develop the skills that would make them effective singer-actors. Our central focus is communication, and developing the performance skills that enhance direct communication with an audience,” she said. “Another very important goal that Dr. Wika and I hold is to help our students become strong musicians who take responsibility for musical accuracy and musicianship.”

 “I enjoy opera and I enjoy this kind of conducting,” Wika said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun when all the elements of music and theater come together.”

 If “The Pirates of Penzance” proves a success, Tahlequah audiences may expect to see more of the same, and of other variations on live musical performances, in coming years.

 “Having established a new tradition of performing a complete work, and offering the workshop over two semesters, we will continue to do so, with the addition of an audition class component in the fall,” Unger said.

Unger wants to to do two shorter works.

 “One from the opera/operetta repertoire, and one from musical theater/cabaret. In order to be marketable as performers and as teachers our students need to be versatile, and it is my hope that by offering a variety of repertoire appropriate for the young singing-actor, we will be helping them to accomplish their career goals in the fields of education as well as music,” she said.

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