Monday, January 15, 2018

The Hypocrites' Pirates of Penzance

Pasadena Playhouse, the State Theatre of California, reinvents its theatre to present Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, as reimagined by the Chicago theatre hooligans The Hypocrites.  This wacky beach party – with flying beach balls, rubber duckies, ukuleles, banjos, plastic swimming pools, and a tiki bar – brings the audience on stage for a night they won’t forget. Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan is presented by Pasadena Playhouse in association with The Hypocrites.  It is adapted and directed by Sean Graney; co-adapted by Kevin O’Donnell and with music direction by Andra Velis Simon.  

Cast member Dana Omar answers my questions below to put you in closer touch with the Hyprocrites company and their mission.

Tell us about the Hypocrites. How long they have been reinventing shows? 
The Hypocrites have been around for an awesome 21 years. They are a company that is known for their offbeat and innovative adaptations of anything from Shakespeare to Gilbert and Sullivan to Chekhov to you name it. This company really has done an excellent job of paying homage to the original pieces while bringing it into the 21stcentury. We have also had success taking shows like “Pirates of Penzance” and “Our Town” from Chicago all around this country.  It is also a company that takes theatre to new places it has never been before. A couple years back we did a twelve-hour adaptation that Sean Graney wrote called "All Our Tragic" (that sold out), which was an all-day event encompassing all 32 surviving Greek tragedies. It is a great example of what The Hypocrites are capable of: taking theatre and bringing it to a new and exciting level while making it accessible for all.

Are musicals a favorite?
You know, The Hypocrites actually don’t do a lot of musicals. Most of the time it’s predominately plays. I know with this particular musical, Sean (Graney) read the script and just fell in love with it and had a vision. And thus, this particular wacky “Pirates” was born and we are all so thankful for it and the joy it brings.

What will physically have to be altered at the Playhouse to accommodate the changes in Pirates? 
I’m not entirely sure since I have yet to see it, but I do know there are accommodations being made to fit our promenade audience on stage with us. And for those that have never been to a promenade show before, it’s when the audience is onstage with the actors. They are like our eleventh cast member every night which makes the show even more exciting. There are still seats that are an option too if promenade is too risky or not physically possible for an audience member. But I do highly recommend roaming on stage with us. There really is no other theatre experience like it. 

Why do they feel the need to turn a show upside down, into a wacky production? Is it to make the younger people in the audience happier?
This show really is for all ages. And we’ve taken it enough places to know that there is something in it for everyone. Sometimes, and this is just by design, theatre can feel distant and less accessible. The seats are so far from the actors and there is an inherent fourth wall. The way this show is set up is so immersive that it makes theatre tangible for everyone. Since we acknowledge the audience (really no choice but to since they are on stage with us), there is an element of human connection that is really fulfilling and gratifying for both parties no matter the age. It creates a mini community for a short amount of time that is really joyous to be a part of. 

Gilbert and Sullivan is unforgettable in its musical style. I assume that the music is staying intact?
Well, yes and no… haha. The words (for the most part) and music numbers are absolutely intact. We cut some songs and music to fit our truncated version. The instruments we use are kind of all over the map with guitars and string instruments being the base for most of the show. We incorporate typical woodwind instruments but also have surprise moments with atypical instruments like the musical saw. Like most of The Hypocrites productions, we pay homage to the original piece but give it a new and fresh voice with our modern sound. 

Talk about audience interaction.
The promenade nature of the show gives an outlet for audience participation. You have the choice to be physically a part of our show being onstage with us or in the fixed seats but we acknowledge you regardless.  We always say “we won’t pretend that you aren’t here, so you shouldn’t pretend you aren’t here either”. This whole show is one moving machine and honestly the audience is the engine. The participation really takes the show and makes it shine. There have been some incredible moments of our audience singing a-long with us (which we highly recommend) that have been the most rewarding moments of my career. There was one time in Boston where The Pirate King was singing “I am the Pirate King” and there was a break where we insert a joke that the audience was unaware of and so the music stopped for a moment. And the audience had already started singing the next verse out loud as if they were in their room singing alone. Unexpected things like that happen often and it only adds to the magic of the show.  

How would you like to conclude?
This show continues to be a labor of love for all of us and we are so excited to bring it to a new place.

The Hypocrites’ Pirates Of Penzance at Arizona Repertory Theatre. // Photo Courtesy of The Hypocrites

Pirates plays at the Pasadena Playhouse from January 23 to February 18.  Tickets are now on sale at or by calling 626-356-7529.

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