Share |

the Slave of Duty

Island Life
Vashon Pirates Rule!

In a part of my own set of loosely interpreted personal guidelines, one can find a provision that grants little or no time or reasonable recognition to musicals. As a middle school kid, I remember breaking into semi-uncontrolled laughter in our living room because of the sing song aspect of an Encyclopedia Britannica salesman’s pitch to me and my parents. When asked why I was laughing, I covered by saying I had just remembered a funny joke. I don’t know that he believed me, and of course it was one more reason for my parents to find another of my actions embarrassing- so it goes. While it wasn’t singing, the wild variations in emphasis and intonation that had been a part of his vocal presentation had been intended to make the pitch interesting, it only served to turn the whole thing into a joke for me. As it is, operatic incantations do very little for me, either in the realm of selling soap or as a melodic medium for spinning a yarn. Or at least that used to be the case.

From this perspective, I continue to maintain that good olde spoken word conversation is perfectly adequate for communicating ideas between people on the street or on the stage and screen. A spoken, as opposed to sung, conversation has the advantage of relatively audible understandability without the impediments of vibrato, elongation and interminable sustain. In song, simple words can at times become collections of too many notes where the poor listener is forced to reassemble a song-ified word dissection while trying to remember what the intent of this tuneful tirade had been from the start of what otherwise would have been a simply spoken bit of wordplay. That all being said, one might wonder why I recently found myself in the front row for the performance of Drama Dock’s staging of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance.

One could invoke the alternative title for this particular operetta/musical comedy/ light opera here as a part of the explanation- I was just being a slave of duty and running my video cameras to record the performance. At least that was how it all started. There is a certain amount of detachment that one maintains from behind a lens that allows one a sense of objectivity that one doesn’t have when they are somwhere to be entertained. One is composing, framing, zooming and anticipating where the next action will occur, and other than being sure that the audio is capturing what is necessary, one tends to let go of what is being said or sung- at least to start with. As it turned out, I experienced with Pirates a similar, gradual revelation that I had gone through while photographing a poetry reading by Anne Sexton many years ago in high school. I had only the slightest idea who Ms. Sexton was- I was there to photograph the reading for the school paper. I was only partly listening to the reading when composing of the image and concern over light and focus began to wane, and in listening a bit more intently it began to dawn on me almost three quarters of the way through the piece that, through simile and metaphor, she was describing a male erection. Nothing so risqué comes along in Pirates- it did after all come out of Victorian England. What I did come to realize, as the lines from the songs ringing in my headphones began to tell the story, was that this was actually a rather funny and enjoyable play delivered through operatic vocal excellence on stage, and similarly skilled live instrumentation from the orchestra pit.

Through all of the four performances I’ve witnessed so far, there was a riff that continued to loop in my head and intrigue me- enough so that I had to look up. It involved the signature song performed here by Gordon Millar as he sings about his character, stating with no uncertainty that he is the Pirate King. What I discovered in my googling, along with what drew me to the search to begin with, is that there is a minor controversy over whether or not a segment of this tune was the influence behind Sammy Lerner’s 1933 composition of the theme song for the Max Fleischer cartoon about Popeye the Sailor. As both Popeye and Pirates are from nautical themes, it would seem at least somewhat likely that they are related. As there is already a pirate presence of sorts on Vashon, it should come as no surprise that this production with its all Island cast and crew does the piratical profession proud. This locally grown theme carries over to a diva ditty at the end that is also worth waiting for. So if festival crowds have you ready to walk the gangplank, take a musical break at the Bethel Church this Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 or on Sunday at 4pm. As Steve the Pirate once said….Yarrrr!