The Pirates of Penzance

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Frederic (Rex Smith) was sent in the care of his nursemaid, Ruth (Angela Lansbury), to be apprenticed to a pilot. But she misunderstood her instructions, being hard of hearing, and apprenticed him instead to a pirate (Kevin Kline). Now he is turning 21 years old, and his service is finished, so he decides to leave the Pirates of Penzance. Ruth wants him to take her with him, but he soon meets some young maidens, the daughters of Major-General Stanley (George Rose), and realizes that Ruth is “plain and old”. Frederic quickly falls in love with one of them, Mabel (Linda Rondstadt). He has a strong “sense of duty” and has vowed to lead a blameless life and to exterminate the pirates. Soon, however, the pirates return and seize the girls. Their father then arrives and lies to the pirates, telling them that he is an orphan. He knows that they are orphans themselves and never attack an orphan.

After the pirates leave, General Stanley wrestles with his conscience, having told a lie. Mabel and Frederic try to cheer him up, and Frederic has engaged the constabulary to help him defeat the pirates. The police arrive, but they turn out to be timid. Then the pirate king and Ruth find Frederic alone. They have reviewed the fine print on his apprenticeship indenture and have discovered that he is still a pirate because he was born in leap year on February 29, and he will not be out of his indentures to the pirates until his 21st birthday. Mabel agrees to wait for Frederic until then! The Police return and, hearing the pirates approach, they hide. The pirates arrive and seize the still guilt-ridden Major-General. The police are coaxed to battle the pirates, but they are defeated. However, the Sergeant of Police (Tony Azito) calls on the pirates to “yield in Queen Victoria’s name.” The pirates tearfully do so and release the Major-General, surrendering to the police. However, Ruth reveals that the pirates are all “noblemen who have gone wrong”, and the Major-General pardons them and invites them to marry his daughters, as all ends happily.


The Pirates of Penzance is a musical, though I think it fits more into the category of operetta, by that talented duo of composers, Gilbert & Sullivan. If you’ve never heard of this, surely you know the “Major-General’s song”, or at least the melody. I, for one, didn’t know there was a film version, but here we are.

What is this about?

Part of the Broadway Theatre Archive, this production of the celebrated operetta penned by Gilbert and Sullivan was taped during a live performance at the Delacorte Theatre in New York’s Central Park. Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline star.

What did I like?

Stage. If you’ve ever seen a musical on stage, then you will notice how the cast has to exaggerate everything, especially their and/or singing. To me, it appears as if the cast was evoking that same emotion of their performances, because none of them give subdued performances, but rather the kind that one can catch on stage.

Cast. With the likes of Angela Lansbury and Kevin Kline leading this cast, surely they can’t fail. Throw in leading man Rex Smith and the golden pipes of Linda Ronstadt and you’ve got the makings of greatness, if only the songs were better,

What didn’t I like?

Rex. I was reading some of the comments and reviews and the general consensus is that Rex Smith overacted. I give him a little bit of leeway, as it is obvious everyone is too much, especially in the opening scene.

Music. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Gilbert and Sullivan, but the songs in this aren’t that great, with the exception of the “Major-General’s song.” As this is an operetta, I wasn’t expecting a string of show-stoppers, but something more than the generic tunes that serve as filler. These are not bad songs, just not interesting. A couple of them are decent, but not memorable.

Sorry for the somewhat brief review, I’m fighting the urge to fall asleep before I finish this. The Pirates of Penzance is one of those musicals that I’ve heard about over and over, but never had the chance to watch. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m glad that I did. No, I’m not in love with it, but it did provide me with some entertainment, which is all that really matters, right? Do I recommend it? Yes, while probably not the best version of the musical, it is still something that should be seen. Check it out!

3 out of 5 stars


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