It’s a Friday night around 6:00 p.m. and a brave and talented group of performers bravely headed to their rehearsal space in the Quad. Quickly, the doors open and close. People rush inside, where the radiator effectively removes the cold November air. “Pirates, pirates! Crimson Arts director and editor Chloe EW Levine ’22 yells. The adrenaline rises. The tension is palpable. Then the orchestra begins to play, breaking the silence. The rehearsal begins.
“It’s a tough time of year for everyone’s physique,” says Levine. Cough drops and tea have become a staple for many cast and crew. While all other Harvard students can take a step back from their daily routine to fight a cold, this group has to come out on top. Time is a scarce resource these days. After all, it’s only a matter of days before everyone has to draw their swords.
On November 11 at the Agassiz Theater, the Harvard Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players will celebrate the highly anticipated premiere of “The Pirates of Penzance”, a comedy opera. “We want this show to be a celebration of the theater after being away from this space for so long,” says Levine. The operetta revolves around the adventures in the life of Frédéric, a courageous young pirate apprentice, torn between duty and love, past and present. It’s a comedy about one of humanity’s biggest questions: follow your heart or follow your mind?
“Gilbert and Sullivan were very naturalistic for their time, they were trying to bring their characters to life,” says Levine. “In order to honor their real intention, a lot of my work as a director readapt the intention to things that were written for rhyme.” Humor is constantly changing. Jokes that were hysterically funny in the 19th century will inevitably be less well received in the 21st century. So Levine tried to transfer the old gold standard of comedy into today’s society, all in the hopes of creating a version of the show that would make sense to a modern, empathetic audience member.
However, comedy isn’t the only thing that changes over time, so does society. Sadly, “Pirates of Penzance” harks back to ingrained stereotypical gender roles. The girls in the show are just pretty and bubbly – that’s it. To avoid falling into this pitfall, the director and the entire cast sat down and talked about each girl as an individual, discussing their inner feelings and deepest desires. “Sometimes other productions don’t really look at that and just show them off as silly, carefree girls, but they’re interesting people,” said one of the actresses, Evelyn J. Carr ’25.
To anyone who feels intimidated that ‘Pirates of Penzance’ is an operetta – don’t be! “This show is the perfect introduction to opera,” says Max Allison ’25. Allison plays the romantic lead role, Frederic. While thrilled to be back in the theater, that excitement comes with a certain level of anxiety and respect. “This is my first time singing in a lyrical style, it’s very different from what I’ve done before,” he says.
“I hope the audience will leave with a feeling of joy to finally be back in the theater and a reminder not to take themselves too seriously,” said Olympia M. Hatzilambrou ’24. Hatzilambrou, who plays Maple, the leading female role and Frederick’s romantic interest, also has a very personal connection to Gilbert and Sullivan’s work. “The pirates were my gateway to Gilbert and Sullivan,” she says. “Maple has been my dream role since Grade 8, it’s wonderful to finally be able to make this dream come true, especially with such a brilliant team and cast! “
They certainly share a very special bond, reinforced by the stress and anxiety, but also the excitement and joy, of putting on a show as a team. “We’re all here to help each other be better artists,” Hatzilambrou says.
“Everyone is there to support each other and make sure that you are having fun, that you are healthy and happy! Carr said. “We have the perfect balance between getting the job done but also having fun. We really have an amazing director.
“The show is so bright and confusing,” Hatzilambrou says. Confusingly brilliant indeed.
A slow romantic waltz, sword fights, a line of kicks, swashbucklers and the iconic bend-and-snap, this rendition of “Pirates of Penzance” has it all.
“The Pirates of Penzance” will be presented on November 11 at 8 p.m. at the Agassiz Theater, with additional performances scheduled for the following weekend.