The Pirates of Penzance is the first operetta American Stage has ever offered in its popular tradition of park performances.
But Pirates is also a return to the event's roots, a chance to experience a classic work in an informal setting.
American Stage officials say both the silliness and the significance of Gilbert and Sullivan ought to appeal to park audiences.
"The Pirates of Penzance has been one of the shows we've been considering for many years," said Todd Olson, American Stage's producing artistic director. "It was on the list even before I came on board here. Gilbert and Sullivan developed a form that became what we now think of as musical theater."
And even though it premiered nearly 230 years ago, Pirates features rhythms, wordplay and themes that still feel contemporary, Olson said.
"It sort of pokes at authority, especially in the military, and at social conventions," he said. "And that's obviously something modern audiences still enjoy."
American Stage in the Park started 22 years ago and built its reputation and its audience by presenting Shakespeare plays, usually adapted into musicals with a modern feel. Then it moved to rollicking contemporary musicals, including last year's Little Shop of Horrors.
"When we got away from doing Shakespeare every year," Olson said, "Pirates just seemed like a natural."
Olson, who's directing the production, has set it in modern times, but other than that he has taken few liberties with the original operetta. Music director Vince DiMura has pared down the score so it can be played by an eight-piece band onstage instead of a full orchestra.
Olson held auditions in several cities, including New York, but said he found the best talent in Florida. Orlando turned out to be a gold mine for musical theater talent, Olson said, thanks to singer-actors who come to Central Florida to work in Disney shows.
Still, most of the cast are newcomers to American Stage. What won't be new to the audience, of course, is the subject matter.
Besides being a very funny show loaded with catchy melodies, The Pirates of Penzance taps into the Tampa Bay area's affection for benign pirates.
"We're lucky to be in a place that has this kind of affinity for pirate lore," Olson said. "We'll probably be throwing some beads to the audience from the stage."
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes
in performing arts. He can be reached at