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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Pirates of Penzance (1983) - Star of the month... Angela Lansbury

"I am the very model of a modern Major General, I've information, vegetable, animal and mineral." - George Stone (as the Major General in 'The Pirates of Penzance')

'The Pirates of Penzance' is a 1983 musical comedy directed by Wilford Leach & starting Kevin Kline, Angela Lansbury, Linda Ronstadt, George Stone, Rex Smith & Tony Azito.

Based on the classic Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, this is filmed movie version based on Joseph Papp's 1981 Broadway revival, featuring the original stage cast (plus Angela Lansbury).

On his 21st birthday, young pirate Frederick (played by Smith) is free to leave the Pirates of Penzance. After turning 21, he leaves & falls for Mabel (played by Ronstadt). It is later discovered Frederick was born on 29 February (a leap year), meaning he has only had 5 birthdays. As he has technically not had 21 birthdays, he is forced to rejoin the pirate crew.

Musical highlights

  • "I Am a Pirate King"
  • "Poor Wondering One"
  • "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General"
  • "A Policeman's Lot is Not a Happy One"
  • "My Eyes Are Fully Open"

Song: "Poor Wondering One" - Linda Ronstadt (I couldn't find a clip from the movie, so this is from the stage production)

Song: "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General"

Did you know...

  • In Act II, there is an extra song "My Eyes Are Fully Open", which was not from 'The Pirates of Penzance' - it is a modified version of a song from the musical 'Ruddigore'
  • Some dialogue and song lyrics have been modernised to suit a more contemporary film audience - for example, "Can it be Custom House?" has been changed to "Can it be the Coast Guard?"
  • The film was shown on a Los Angeles television movies channel called SelecTV at the same time as its cinema release - as a result, movie theatres boycotted the film with only 92 theatres agreeing to show it
  • Keep your eyes open during the 'I Am a Pirate King' number to see a "Watch your head" label on a boom on the ship
  • Although the film's chorus consists of British performers, they are all miming to vocals recorded by the Broadway cast production
  • Estelle Parsons was the only major cast member from the 1982 Broadway revival to not appear in the film - she was replaced with Angela Lansbury
  • John Travolta was considered for the role of The Pirate King
  • The 1981 Revival production opened on Broadway on  January 1981 and ran for 787 performances - Linda Ronstadt, Kevin Kline, George Rose and Tony Azito all won Tony Awards for their acting performances on Broadway
  • Sir Arthur Sullivan's original orchestrations were discarded for the film soundtrack, and re-written

Closing remarks

'The Pirates of Penzance' features exciting swashbuckling pirate performances from Kevin Kline & Rex Smith. I've always been a fan of Linda Ronstadt since I first saw her appear on 'The Muppet Show' as a young child. It was not until I saw her in this film that I realized how amazing & underutilized her voice is. 

Cheesy, badly made & far from being a work of art, the film sort of makes a mockery of Gilbert & Sullivan, so purists may wish to avoid it. Otherwise this is a lot of fun to watch & a good sing-a-long film.

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