Ahoy, avast ye land lubbers and arrrrrrrr! The Pirates are back!
In 1985, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre was opened with an incredibly successful season of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, starring Simon Gallaher, Marina Prior and Jon English.
In March 2015, Harvest Rain Theatre Company are joining QPAC’s 30th birthday celebrations with a return of this rollicking musical. It is fitting that Simon Gallaher is also returning with the show; this time as director. Gallaher was asked if he and English would be reprising their roles- “No,” he retorted “that would be The Pensioners of Penzance”.
After extensive auditions, Billy Bourchier and Georgina Hopson have been cast as the young lovers, Frederick and Mable. Bourchier and Hopson can certainly hold their own vocally – at the launch of the show they wowed with beautiful renditions of ‘Oh Is There Not One Maiden’ and ‘Poor Wandering One’. They are both recent graduates of the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University’s Musical Theatre course, and are certainly reminiscent of a young Gallaher and Prior from the 1985 production. Joining them as the kind-hearted yet muddled nursemaid, Ruth, is musical theatre veteran, Nancye Hayes. Last aboard, playing the Pirate King, is someone who will be a familiar face to many, Andrew O’Keefe.
O’Keefe is best know for his decade as the host of Deal or No Deal. While known as a TV personality, few know O’Keefe was originally a lawyer (in fact, he never officially resigned from his firm. He took leave to help a friend write a few episodes of a sketch comedy show and got swept up in the entertainment business, from whence he never returned). He also has an AMus.A in Classical Voice, and a background in theatresports. As he puts it, “I had flounced around high school and university stages”, but it wasn’t until he was asked to play King Herod in Jesus Christ Super Star last year that he actually did musical theatre seriously.
O’Keefe says “They just called me- they were looking for someone who had a reputation for razzmatazz, for schlocky, televisual antics”. He was also approached for his role in Pirates.
“I’m not sure what made Tim [O’Connor] think I’d be the perfect pirate; whether it was because I can handle my liquor… What are the essential requirements for being a pirate? Rope swinging, a free spirit, a predilection for plunder and an ability to hold copious amounts of liquor. I tick at least two of those boxes.”
When asked why he accepted the role, O’Keefe is quick to respond “You don’t turn down a production of Pirates. Who doesn’t want an excuse for piratical antics for a few weeks every now and again?”
He also has fond memories of his introduction to the musical. “Dad…well, Dad, I wouldn’t call him a singer, but he was certainly an enthusiastic vocalist. He would listen to the recordings of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in the car, and encouraged us all to sing along. There were five kids in our family, so with dad in the front and five kids along the bench seat in the back, normally with the windows wound down and him smoking a cigar as we made our way, it was very much like a pirate ship.”
Jon English’s portrayal of the Pirate King in 1985 was iconic- for many people who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s he is the Pirate King. O’Keefe certainly has tight purple pants to fill, but he seems game.
“It’s going to be a really big job, but, you know, I have the ability to swash-buckle. I can cut loose when need be, as certain Christmas parties have demonstrated over the years.”
He’s looking forward to working with such a talented ensemble, and to having a break from television too.
“Television can be terribly isolating at times” he explains “I’ve spent ten years on a TV show on which I am the only member of the cast. You miss that esprit de corps; that company feeling…It [TV] differs from theatre in a number of ways. Your performance is mediated by your editors, your directors. What the audience ultimately gets may only be a glancing resemblance to your performance on the day. Every performer in the world will tell you, there’s nothing like an immediate response. Whether that response is positive or negative, it’s like a bolt to the heart”.
Premiered in 1879, it seems pertinent to ask if The Pirates of Penzance still has relevance 135 years later. O’Keefe is sure it does.
“You can see from the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise that we still love the swash-buckling theme… The high seas are a responsibility free zone. It’s the ultimate escapism. The beauty of Pirates, and of Gilbert and Sullivan generally, is that they were real satirists. They were like the Monty Python of their era. They use absurdity to poke holes in all the pretensions of authority and of manners and of society’s view of itself in their day.”
So come join the pirates for QPAC’s 30th birthday celebration next year. With a stellar cast and a director so experienced with the show, you’re in for some fun and a good old-fashioned swashbuckle.
The Pirate of Penzance will play at QPAC’s Concert hall From March 19 – 22nd 2015.