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A classic update: BSU gives a new setting to 'The Pirates of Penzance'

BSU Director of Choral Activities Dwight Jilek, right, conducts cast members on Tuesday for an upcoming production of “The Pirates of Penzance.” (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 3
Director Cory Renbarger, left, shows actor Ian Trosen where to project his voice on Tuesday during a rehearsal for the upcoming production of “The Pirates of Penzance.” (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 3
Playing the roles of Frederic and Mabel, Ian Trosen and Katilynn Meine perform a song on Tuesday during a rehearsal for “The Pirates of Penzance.” (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 3

BEMIDJI—The dialogue and music may be familiar, but the setting will be entirely new when the BSU Music Department rolls out its upcoming rendition of "The Pirates of Penzance."

BSU will host the opera at 7:30 p.m. March 2-3, and at 3 p.m. March 4, in Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex. The production also will include a performance specifically for middle school students.

Unlike the traditional setting, though, the opera has been set in outer space, adding a new flavor to the classic tale.

"The story itself hasn't changed, other than the location and a couple little things about who the characters are," Director Cory Renbarger said. "Instead of a desert island, it's a planet; instead of an old chapel and castle, it's a space station."

The comedic opera follows the story of Frederic, who became apprenticed to a group of pirates. During the course of the play, he discovers that he may not get to rid himself from the the lifestyle as soon as he originally liked.

The idea for the new spin on the production came about when Renbarger was watching a sci-fi program over the summer and encountered a character reminiscent of "The Pirates of Penzance." He then decided to run with the idea.

Although the setting may be miles above the pirate ship where the play normally would be set, the overall dialogue has remained much the same. Renbarger said there were only a few changes they made to avoid confusion.

"The script didn't really change at all—just a few words here and there. I personally thought it was going to change a lot more than it actually did," said Ian Trosen, one of the two actors to play Frederic. "The story's pretty much the same. It's interesting how that worked out—and actually worked."

Putting the characters in space may have been an entertaining way to put a new twist on the classic story, but it also turned out to be a way to avoid the larger-than-life image many people have of pirates following the "Pirates of the Caribbean" film franchise.

"This was actually easier for me to conceptualize because I wasn't constrained to the expectation of "Pirates of the Caribbean,"" Renbarger said.

Undertaking the play also turned out to include other, more subtle differences, such as changing the way some of the female characters are portrayed. Instead of remaining the "wards" of Maj. Gen. Stanley, they became much stronger characters.

"He's totally made the women in this opera powerful," said Katilynn Meine, one of the two actresses to play the role of Mabel. "It's been a challenge because us sopranos never get those roles. It shows how society is changing."

Regardless of whether the audience is surprised at the new features or how much the production remained the unchanged, Renbarger said it has been a way to add a new layer to the decades-old story.

"It's kind of breathed energy and interest into it," Renbarger said. "Breaking the expectations has been very freeing for this."

If You Go:

What: The Pirates of Penzance

Where: Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex

When: 7:30 p.m. March 2-3; 3 p.m. March 4.

Cost: $15 for adults, $10 for senior citizens (62 and older) and K-12 students, and free for BSU and NTC students with an ID.

Jordan Shearer

Jordan Shearer covers crime and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. A Rochester native and Bemidji State grad, he previously spent several years in western Nebraska writing for the Keith County News. Follow him on Twitter @Jmanassa

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