POST: LaGuardia High School's 'Pirates!'

What's it about?

"Inspired by the Gilbert & Sullivan classic, Pirates of Penzance, the LaGuardia Arts Opera production, Pirates!, adds a modern-day sensibility to the production, but the timeless comedy endures (Laguardiahs.org)."

A gang of men, cursed by a Voodoo Queen to live out their lives as plundering pirates until they marry virgins, land on a Caribbean island and throw their pirate apprentice, Frederic, a birthday party to celebrate the completion of his 21st year of life. Then Frederic reminds the gang, Pirate King and all, that his obligation to the pirates was to last only until his 21st birthday, and decides to part ways from the men. However, Frederic soon discovers that the curse applies to him as well, and he will only regain his "land legs" once he too weds a virgin. 

What I experienced: 

I stepped out of the train station at 66th Street and Broadway, a station that is all too familiar to me, and began the short walk over to Amsterdam avenue. And just like that, I found myself back at LaGuardia High School. I can't seem to stay away, even though it's been nearly FIVE years (Jesus...) since I graduated, and exactly that long since I performed in one of their productions. For me, it was an original operetta titled Life of the Party, written especially for our school by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, the same musical duo (and married couple) behind Broadway's Legally Blonde

Me and Laurence O'Keefe post-show in 2012

Me and Laurence O'Keefe post-show in 2012

The year before, in 2011, I had seen LaGuardia's production of an operetta called Kismet, and had been so blown away that I was motivated to audition for Opera Workshop, a program that (thankfully!) accepted me. Interestingly enough, the actor who played the lead role on the night that I saw Kismet was the extremely talented Theo Hoffman, a man who is now a professional opera singer, currently working in Los Angeles. 

And now I was here, in a school that I could no longer call my own, to experience a new class of students perform another operetta, Pirates!, this one based on Pirates of Penzance, an opera I admittedly did not know much about. As I walked through the doors, I thought about how I had officially spent more time out of LaGuardia since I graduated than I had spent as a student there, and how I still felt an overwhelming connection to the space as a whole. I looked around for people I recognized, knowing that anybody I had gone to school with would have been long gone by now. I did see one teacher I knew, Mr. Johnson, who greeted me warmly by name. It was nice to see a familiar face. For a moment, it almost felt like I had never left. 

And then I spotted them: Four girls I had not only gone to high school with, but girls that I had shared a stage with in Life of the Party five years ago! Cara, Sam, Evan, and Vanessa! I almost couldn't believe it, but there they were, sitting together in the center of the Concert Hall. 

I immediately stood up and shot Evan a text:

I took my seat again, excited to catch up with people that I hadn't seen in a while during intermission and after the show. 

From where I was seated, I could clearly make out every face in the orchestra pit, including the conductor, Mr. Meyers, another person I recognized from my high school days. If I disengaged from reality just a little bit, I could believe that I was just another student at LaGuardia. Clearly, I looked the part. One of the parents sitting next to me turned and asked what grade I was in. I visibly hesitated, before mumbling that I didn't go to LaGuardia, and praying for her to drop the subject. And thankfully, before I had to elaborate any further, I heard the voice of Ms. Fleischer, the Assistant Principal of the Music department, over the loud speaker, instructing us to silence our cell phones. The show was starting. 

Okay, so there was this gang of pirates led by a Pirate King, and they were eager to find and wed virgins in order to reverse the curse that was placed on them by a Voodoo Queen and regain their "land legs" (their ability to be on land for extended periods of time without debilitating nausea). 

I was surprised by how much it bugged me that the only way to break the curse placed on the pirate gang was for them to marry virgins, but it was just such unenlightened reasoning. Some other words that the pirates kept using in place of virgin were pure and virtuous. UGH. And then Frederic, the young pirate apprentice, decided to separate himself from the pirates after turning 21 and find a virgin to marry on his own. He thought he had found this in his nursemaid, Ruth, but as it turned out, Ruth was far more experienced sexually than she made herself out to be. And Frederic was furious when he found out! It became clear that his attraction to Ruth had nothing to do with who she was as a person, and was based solely on her sexual history. 

When Frederic fell for Mabel, a brilliant virgin girl and daughter of a Major General, I couldn't help but wonder if he would have felt the same way for her if she was not a virgin. My guess was that it would have been a deal-breaker. While Mabel was a virgin, before Frederic could marry her, he was made aware of the fact that his obligation to the pirate gang was really to expire once he had reached his 21st birthday, a date he had not yet technically reached since he was born on a leap year and had only lived to see five birthdays. Yuuuuup.

Earlier in the night, I had thought that I had caught a glimpse of Nell Benjamin, as in Larry O'Keefe's wife and half of the musical duo behind Life of the Party, but I assumed I must have been imagining things. But one look at my program proved otherwise: Pirates! was co-conceived by Nell Benjamin, Gordon Greenburg, and John McDaniel, and the lyrics and book were by Nell alone!

During intermission, I caught up with my friends, and we each filled each other in on what was going on in our lives. While we were all done with college and either furthering our educations or working full-time, it appeared that we had not changed much where it counted, and for that I was glad. We decided to all find seats together in the back of the Concert Hall after intermission to watch the second act. 

The ending to Pirates! was comically abrupt, with the virgin daughters of the Major General volunteering to wed the pirates and save them from their lives of forced piracy. Mabel and Frederic were free to be together, while the Pirate King opted to remain a Pirate King by staying with Ruth, the woman he loved. 

After the show, my friends and I set out to get a drink to unpack everything we had seen in the show. Funnily enough, we settled on a Starbucks rather than a bar, and spent our time much like we did when we were in high school: playing some form of card game and chatting it up. Some things would never change. 

Want to see it?

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What did you experience?

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