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'Pirates of Penzance': Collaboration to perform Gilbert and Sullivan comedy

From left, Sean Conlon, Andrea Espinosa and Mark Fulton rehearse a scene from "The Pirates of Penzance." Bemidji Community Theater and the Paul Bunyan Playhouse will present the popular musical Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 19-21, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 22, at 2 p.m. at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Bemidji Community Theater will fulfill the long-time dream of retiring BCT treasurer Dick Lueben by producing "Pirates of Penzance," which will open this week at the historic Chief Theater.

A collaboration of BCT and the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, the performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 19-21, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for students through high school and on sale now at Iverson's Corner Drug in downtown Bemidji and Ken K. Thompson at the Paul Bunyan Mall.

Gilbert and Sullivan, a dynamic team of lyricist and composer, are credited as the forerunner of today's musical comedies with their comedic operettas. They used their operettas to poke fun at the powerful using satire and humorous lyrics.

We meet the pirates at the opening curtain, a rag-tag bunch of all ages from young impressed boys like Jonah Snyder, a seventh grader from Bemidji Middle School, to the Pirate King, Mark Fulton, a biology professor at Bemidji State University. Although this is Fulton's first production with BCT, he was in "Pirates" 25 years ago in Madison, Wis.

"My whole family is in the show - my younger son, my daughter and my wife," Fulton said. "Actually my daughter and wife talked me into trying out. We've agreed that we have all caught the theater bug."

One of the pirates is Frederic played by TrekNorth High School junior, Sean Conlon. His last time on stage was the PBP production of "Peter Pan" in 2004. He said he decided to audition for this show because he studies music and voice in high school. Conlon's nursemaid is played by Andrea Espinosa, a chef at Concordia Language Villages.

Espinosa said she has loved this show ever since she was 7 years old and always wanted to play the part of Ruth, the nursemaid to Frederic, whom she mistakenly indentured to a "pirate" and not a "pilot."

The pirates learned to parry their swords under the tutelage of Kirk Karstens, an instructor of fencing for Bemidji Community Education.

The Major General, a long time BCT actor, Joel Ward, was last seen as Eliza Doolittle's father in the BCT production of "My Fair Lady" in 2005. Ward said when the opportunity arose again this summer, he auditioned because it had been a long time dream of resident Gilbert and Sullivan expert, Lueben.

"Dick has been the heart and soul of (Bemidji) Community Theater, and he wanted to see it done," said Ward. "This cast is wonderful, a nice bunch over all, and I have worked with a lot of casts over the years."

One of the Major General's nine daughters he needs to marry off is Mabel, who is played by Linnea Lindstrom. She has two other Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to her credits, "The Gondoliers" for BCT and "The Mikado" for Northern Light Opera in Park Rapids. She said she likes doing these shows "because they are a fun crossover from opera to musical theater."

Another daughter is played by Alison Cease who is "loving the show, a great cast, and it's fun to be back home in Bemidji and to my roots." Cease is one of a number of family members who are in the show.

Her father, Kevin Cease, plays the Sergeant of Police in a comedic interpretation of the ineptitude of the constabulary.

"This is my very favorite musical, and I've wanted to be in it since I was a child," he said. "After rehearsing for three months, I still love the music. It's engaging. The story, although written in the 1850s, is timely."

Director Mary Knox Johnson assembled a technical staff with a wide range of experience. Karen Bradley, the musical director said the singers, are hard workers, real troupers and sound good.

Wayne Hoff, the accompanist, said, "This is the first time I have actually performed this show, and I am enjoying every minute of it."

Costume designer Cheryl Winnett said she had forgotten how many challenges there are in a period show and how much fun it can be.

Carolyn Towler, the stage manager of the production, received a surprise on the stage after rehearsal Friday night, Nov. 6. Darin Miller whose daughter, Laura, is in the cast asked for her hand in marriage, and she accepted

This production is underwritten by grants from Wal-Mart Foundation, First National Bank of Bemidji Foundation and Region 2 Arts Council.