Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Pirates of Penzance

There is no better satire of Victorian life than the musicals of Gilbert and Sullivan. And while I enjoy all of Gilbert and Sullivan's musicals, I definitely have a soft spot for Pirates of Penzance.

I never get tired of watching the 1983 film adaptation of Pirates of Penzance, starring Kevin Kline. It tells the story of Frederick, an upstanding young man who happens to have spent his youth among pirates. On his 21st birthday, he announces that he is going to leave piracy behind and devote himself (albeit regrettably) to the "extermination" of his former friends. Once he falls in love with a girl, whose father is a Major General. Everything seems to be going well for Frederick until his former pirates friends show up and hilarity ensues.

In the end, the girls' father, General Stanley, proves himself a "model of a modern Major General" by accepting the pirates, who, after all, "with all their faults" still "love their Queen." It turns out that what they really crave is to settle down for a life of "unbounded domesticity." Of course, it doesn't hurt things when it turns out the pirates are actually peers of the realm. Being a rather dotty, social climbing member of the nouveau riche, the General immeadiately instructs the pirates to: "resume your ranks and legislative duties, and take my daughters, all of whom are beauties!"

There is no question that Kevin Kline steals the scene as the Pirate King. His sense of humor and ability is reminiscent of his peerless work in A Fish Called Wanda. His on-stage athletics are pretty impressive as well!

My sister and I watched this film more times than I could possibly count--50 at least. One of our favourite activities was attempting to sing "I am the very model of a modern Major General." Not an easy feat! The following scene includes both "Modern Major General" and the General's little song about being an orphan--which of course instantly melts the pirates' hearts (being orphans themselves, and good Englishmen at heart, they are doubtless well-schooled in the works of Dickens. It would be unthinkable to rob an orphan of his only company).


Thorsprincess said...

And what wonderful pirates you and your sister made (as well as policemen, beauties, and the major general!)

As you know, I had been a member of an amateur G&S troupe before you were born. I loved this film, and was so happy to find my old music and share so many of these wonderful and delightfully funny songs with you.

I wanted to mention the fabulous 1980's G & S series produced by Canadian television and PBS is still available, I believe. The first G & S I shared with you girls was their production of The Mikado--it is terrific--and that sparked your interest in the first place. Also, the film "Chariots of Fire" reprised parts of the Mikado and "Poor Wandering One," from Pirates.

Actually, the '80s was a rich period for G & S revivals. The Canadian series is remarkable, because they actually put all the G&S productions on film for the first time. They are just great, with many excellent actors and singers involved in their making--highly recommended!

Kalianne@BygoneBeauty said...

I have heard much praise for this musical. I'm putting it on my must see list! :-o)

skatej said...

You have no idea how happy I was when I read the title for your entry. I LOOOOOVE "Pirates of Penzance", and have converted a few of my friends into G&S lovers as well. I've had a crush on Kevin Kline for years because of this film (especially during "With Cat-Like Tread" where he shows the amazing strength of his thighs by doing those lunges!), though I must say I prefer his pirate self to many of his other characters!
Sadly, the only DVD version available of Pirates of Penzance is not this one, but a videorecording of a stage production in I believe Central Park. However, I think it's a nice little gem; Patricia Routledge plays Ruth.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I had recordings of Gilbert and Sullivan when I was a little girl and therefore knew all the words to these crazy songs. Not very cool, I suppose, but fun.

Fete et Fleur said...

I love this musical too! This post brought back fond memories for me. Thank you!


Gillian L. said...

We have watched this movie about twenty times ourselves and it is one of our family favourites. I adore Kevin Kline as the Pirate King, especially when he sings I am a Pirate King!

My husband can sing the Modern Major General song...quickly and saying the words correctly which amazes me!

The storyline about their inability to rob orphans is so amusing, especially when Frederick informs them they are such poor pirates because of it.

Thank you for bringing back such fond memories...perhaps it is time to watch it again!


P.S. My sons love to watch this as well.

Anonymous said...

I love watching G+S. As for the Modern major General- that just causes such hillarity in our house and colapsing on the floor in giggles. Lovely post.

Margaret said...

I think it's so neat that all of you love this musical too!

I'm sorry to hear that it's not on DVD yet. I'll have to write a letter!

willow said...

I haven't seen this in ages, but have seen it many times. Love Kevin Klein and never watched it without some huge chuckles...well...hardly ever! ;^)

lotusgreen said...

when i was a young girl in michigan, i went, for a few summers to interlochen, the national music camp.

one summer they did pirates and rusty hansher, a girl in my cabin, played the one who sang "poor wandring one," and practiced over and over and over.

which i can still hear, and even, to some extent, sing!

Margaret said...

That must have been fun, Lotus Green! I must say "Poor Wandring One" isn't exactly my favourite, but my sister sings it very well! (I always let her be Mabel when we did our re-enactments. I always thought being the Major General or Pirate King was a lot more fun!).

Amanda said...

What a great post! As a weird twist, my sister, brother, and I grew up loving and watching a different version...a 1982 movie version called The Pirate Movie. It was filmed in Australia and it was quite hilarious (and slightly scandalous when I was little). I loved the songs though :)

Margaret said...

Ah, Pirates make everything better!