Universal Press Department
January 5, 1983
A century after Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates Of Penzance was first performed, 'Pirate' fever has begun all over again. And now, it is the very model of a modern movie musical.
It all started in July of 1980 with Jospeh Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival production staged in Central Park and continued as the award-winning Broadway hit of the season, smashing long-standing box-office records, running over 800 performances. The success of the Broadway show led to a record-breaking national company currently touring the country. The show is currently running in London's West End.
To date The Pirates of Penzance has won 3 Tony Awards, for Best Revival, Best Director (Wilford Leach) and Best Actor (Kevin Kline); 2 Obie Awards; the New York Drama Critics Award; 5 Drama Desk Awards; and the Outer Critics Circle Award for the Best Musical. The show also received numerous nominations, including one for a Tony award for Linda Ronstadt as Best Actress in a Musical.
Papp began to receive countless offers from independent movie producers as well as from the major studios. He kept all requests at arm's length... until Ed Pressman came on the scene.
"Ed was the only person who seemed genuinely interested in presenting the show in the original form," says Papp. "He wanted to reflect the nature of the show by retaining the original cast and keeping Wilford Leach as the screen writer and director. We were able to talk seriously and specifically about a cinematic version and when Universal proved their enthusiasm, we were ready to bring the hit show to the motion picture screen."
The principal original cast members - Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt, Rex Smith, George Rose and Tony Azito - are repeating their roles in the screen version, with the notable addition of Angela Lansbury in the role of Ruth.
After establishing himself over the years as one of America's most experienced and distinguished theatre producers, Joseph Papp is making his debut as a movie producer. Ed Pressman is executive producer and British filmmaker Timothy Burrill ("Tess", "Chariots of Fire") is co-producer.
With Douglas Slocombe as director of photography, Graciela Daniele as choreographer, William Elliott as music consultant, Elliot Scott as production designer, Tom Rand as costume designer and Ann Coates as editor, "The Pirates of Penzance" went before the movie cameras on Friday, November 27, 1981 at Shepperton Studios, near London.
The musical filmed through February, 1982. It is a Universal Release.
The innumerable versions of their earlier comic operas which were appearing all over America in the late 1870s vexed Gilbert and Sullivan immensely. Not only did they dislike the idea of their work being misrepresented but they were also rightly resentful of the profits made by the promoters of these pirate versions, not a penny of which was reaching them.
The object of premiering The Pirates Of Penzance in New York was to secure the American copyright for themselves. Under American law an alien was unable to obtain copyright but he could get protection under common law for an unpublished manuscript.
Consequently, Sullivan's score was not published, and an American arranged the work from pianoforte score. To make doubly sure, the libretto was not available to first nighters or to subsequent audiences until much later in the run.
The opening night in America took place at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York, on the last day of the year 1879. To secure the English copyright, a simultaneous performance (bearing in mind the time differential) was given in England on the afternoon of December 30, (originally advertised for December 29), at a tiny theatre in Paignton, Devon, the Royal Bijou, by the second H.M.S. Pinafore company who were playing nearby at Torquay.
Capable of seating only 70, the Bijou was less like a theatre than a private drawing roon. The performance that day was inevitably makeshift. Miss Lenoir, Richard D'Oyly Carte's personal secretary, superintended the single rehearsal and due to the late arrival of the music, the performance was put back a day. Even so, the actors had no time to learn either words or music and played the piece carrying the parts with them. For costumes, they used those from Pinafore with handkerchiefs tied round their heads to denote piracy. The sets were made up from what was available at the Bijou itself.
It was just over three months before the London premiere took place and Gilbert and Sullivan returned from New York to rehearse it.
Once again the more solemn critics took Sullivan to task: "Certain passages in the first duet between Frederic and Ruth and elsewhere, where the composer becomes serious in spite of himself, make one regret what might have been, or, perhaps, might still be if Mr. Sullivan would attempt a genuine dramatic effort."
Apart from that, the notices were favorable to all. The production played at the Opera Comique from April 3, 1880 to April 2, 1881.
Director Leach, musical adaptor William Elliott, choreographer Graciela Daniele and the rest of the New York Shakespeare Festival crew actually found their lack of Gilbert and Sullivan experience an advantage. "We treated 'Pirates' as a new work," says Leach, "as something living rather than as something to be done correctly," with reverence toward the dead. We approached the production from the script itself, and from the music, rather than from the tradition of how it 'ought' to be done."
Along with limbering "Pirates'" joints, Leach loosened its vocal chords. "I wanted voices that had kept their individuality. And I like pop singers. That made Linda Ronstadt a natural. And the Gods were with us, because she had the voice and had wanted to be in Gilbert and Sullivan ever since sixth grade, when her older sister sang 'Sorry Her Lot' from Pinafore. That's why we added that song to Act II.
"Frederic's role was the hardest to fill. We auditioned about 800 singers before someone suggested Rex Smith, whose forthright sincerity, good looks, personal warmth and musicianship were everything we had been looking for."
At least some of the rigidity associated with traditional Gilbert and Sullivan productions goes back to Gilbert himself. As director, Gilbert worked out the action beforehand with 3-inch actor blocks and 2 1/2-inch actress blocks in different colors for different voices. He dictated every gesture and phrasing. And his tirades could reduce a flustered ingenue to tears.
By contrast, Leach as director sets a goal and gives his people the freedom to reach it in their own ways. "Let someone find the role in himself," he says, "and he'll most be the character."
As for his partnership with Elliott and Daniele? "It's like dancing with someone and not knowing who's leading -- we all knew the same thing at the same time without saying it."
The style of the film derives from this principle: we must create a real world in which all that happens in "The Pirates Of Penzance" would logically happen. We must keep to the simplicity and directness of the original. A kind of waywardness, roughness, energy, tenderness and purity are required, rather than chic, self-consciousness or cuteness.
This might be a silent film comedy that suddenly bursts into song. Keaton, Lloyd, Jacques Tati and Lillian Gish would all be at home here. In the U.S.A., these pirates would land in some cove just around the bend from Far Rockaway or Asbury Park; in France, just down the beach from where M. Hulot takes his holiday.
The "Penzance" of the film isn't literally the one in Cornwall. Here the inhabitants express themselves with such a whole-hearted commitment that naturally (logically), they sing; on February 29th it is possible to go on a picnic and to wade, as the story requires.
The illusion we need to create will require magical filmmaking, and as in good magic, the illusion depends on the tricks remaining unnoticed. There should, for example, always be at least a breeze. At the same time, the wrong kind of trees grow by this sea. It must always seem a real world, but reality askew. The scale is always slightly smaller than in our world, and the perspective not quite right.
Frederic, a slave of duty, has served out his indentures faithfully, but he is now resolved to become an honest man and urges the pirates to do the same. But they refuse, agreeing with their leader that "it is a glorious thing to be a pirate king" (KEVIN KLINE).
On his way back to civilization, Frederic falls in with a chorus of pretty young ladies who turn out to be the daughters of Major-General Stanley. With one of these girls, Mabel (LINDA RONSTADT), Frederic is much taken. Suddenly, the pirates swoop down upon the girls, who are saved only by the intervention of their father, who introduces himself as "the very model of a modern Major-General" (GEORGE ROSE).
To escape from the pirates' clutches, the Major-General pretends to be an orphan, which so excites their pity that they let him and his daughters go. Frederic, however, is not let off so lightly, for it appears that he was born in a leap year on February 29 and consequently -- his indentures providing him an apprenticeship until his 21st birthday -- he has many years yet to serve.
So, true to his ideal of duty, Frederic returns to the pirate band, now under threat of attack from a peculiarly hesitant posse of constables whose sergeant (TONY AZITO), echoed by his lugubrious men, laments the "policeman's lot is not a happy one."
In the ensuing fight, the reluctant policemen are defeated by the pirates, who, however, immediately succumb at the police sergeant's demands "We charge you yield, in Queen Victoria's name!"
"We yield at once, with humbled mien," the pirate king cries" "Because, with all our faults, we love our Queen."
The police, overcome with emotion, prepare to lead the pirates away. But Ruth interposes:
One moment! Let me tell you who they are. They are no members of the common throng; They are all noblemen who have gone wrong!
On receipt of this startling information, the Major-General unhesitatingly hands over his daughters to the pirates with the memorable words: "No Englishman unmoved that statement hears, because, with all our faults, we love our House of Peers."
The original Pirate King from Central Park, KEVIN KLINE won a Tony award for his performance in the same role on Broadway.
Born and raised in St. Louis, he studied music and drama at Indiana University before attending the Juilliard Center. He was a founding member of John Houseman's The Acting Company where he spent four seasons playing leading roles in The School For Scandal, The Three Sisters, The Way Of The World, She Stoops To Conquer and The Time Of Your Life, among others.
More recently, he received his first Tony award and a Drama Desk Award for his role in On The Twentieth Century, followed by major roles in the critically acclaimed Loose Ends and Holiday.
Immediately after completing his role in "Penzance," Kline returned to New York to star opposite Meryl Streep in the motion picture, "Sophie's Choice." Upcoming is the film, "The Big Chill."
The only member of the star cast not to have played in the original Park and Broadway productions, ANGELA LANSBURY, was selected to play the role of Ruth because of her proven talent as both a musical star and an award-winning actress.
With 41 motion pictures, 13 major stage productions, 26 leading television appearances and a multitude of honors, the London-born actress comes to this latest role straight from a tiring but successful record-breaking tour of the United States in Sweeney Todd, for which she won the Tony award.
She has also won Tony awards for such musicals as Mame, Gypsy and Dear World, as well as being nominated for three Academy Awards as Best Supporting Actress. Recently she starred as Marple in the film version of Agatha Christie's "The Mirror Crack'd."
One of America's most popular and talented singers, LINDA RONSTADT (Mabel) was born in Tucson, Arizona, on July 15. Each of her albums since 1974 has sold more than one million copies, and she has won numerous awards, including a Grammy in 1976 for the best female pop vocal performance.
Ronstadt was the original choice for the role of Mabel when Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival produced the show in Central Park, followed by the Broadway production, for which she received a nomination for a Tony award as Best Actress in a Musical.
This marks her motion picture starring debut.
Another of the Broadway cast to cross the Atlantic for the big screen version, REX SMITH (Frederic), is also a celebrated recording star, with four hit albums (one of which is platinum) and three world tours to his credit.
In addition, Smith is a successful actor. He was featured in the TV movie "Sooner Or Later" from which his hit single "You Take My Breath Away" originated, and he has just completed his second movie "Headin' For Broadway." His last New York appearance before the role of Frederic in The Pirates Of Penzance was as Danny Zuko in the Broadway production of "Grease".
His latest single, "Everlasting Love," reached the top of the American charts in 1981.
GEORGE ROSE, who made his debut in a Gilbert and Sullivan role when he played the Major-General in the Broadway production, now repeats the role for the movie.
He was last seen on Broadway as Captain Hook to Sandy Duncan's Peter Pan, and immediately prior to that he played with Rex Harrison and Claudette Colbert in The Kingfisher (a performance that won him a Drama Desk Award).
He performed for eight years in classical repertory with the Old Vic and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and appeared in a number of commercial successes in London's West End, including The Visit with the Lunts, The Apple Cart with Noel Coward, and The Chalk Garden with Dame Edith Evans.
In 1961 he was on Broadway with Paul Scofield in A Man For All Seasons, and has since been seen in Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Sleuth, and the musicals Walking Happy, She Loves Me and Canterbury Tales, among others.
He received a Tony nomination for his performance opposite Katharine Hepburn in Coco and again for his work in My Fat Friend. For his Alfred P. Doolittle in the twentieth-anniversary revival of My Fair Lady, he won a Tony as Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.
TONY AZITO's performance as the Sergeant in the Broadway production won him the Drama Desk Award for Outstandihg Featured Actor in a Musical as well as a nomination for a Tony award.
He had previously appeared in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of The Threepenny Opera and the La Mama production of C.O.R.F.A.X. (Don't Ask), and The Cotton Club Gala. His Broadway credits include Happy End. He can be seen in the movies, "Night Of The Juggler" and "Union City".
The New York Shakespeare Festival was begun by Joseph Papp in 1954 as a Shakespeare Workshop in a church basement on the lower East Side.
The NYSF has produced Free Shakespeare in the Parks since 1956, and settled in 1957 in Central Park on the site where the Delacorte Theater was built in 1962. In 1964, a Mobile Theater was added to tour city parks and playgrounds. The Festival created a year-round home when it converted the landmark Astor Library into the Public Theater, which opened with the original production of Hair in 1967.
Since then, the NYSF has produced over 100 new plays,, among them: No Place To Be Somebody, Two Gentlemen Of Verona, Sticks And Bones, That Championship Season, Streamers and A Chorus Line, which collectively have won six Drama Critics' Circle Awards, four Tony awards, (for Best Play or Best Musical), and three Pulitzer Prizes.
For television the Festival has produced Much Ado About Nothing, Sticks And Bones and Wedding Band. From 1973 to 1977 the NYSF served as theater constituent at Lincoln Center where productions included Me, The Threepenny Opera, The Cherry Orchard and Streamers (all honored with Tony nominations).
Recent Festival productions include Miss Margarida's Way, For Colored Girls..., Runaways and I'm Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road.
The NYSF's centennial production of The Pirates Of Penzance, like Two Gentlemen Of Verona and Much Ado About Nothing, began as 'Free Shakespeare in the Park' before moving to Broadway.
Wilford Leach directs the screen version of "The Pirates Of Penzance" from his own screenplay. As Principal Director of the New York Shakespeare Festival, he directed the Broadway production and, for the Festival, he has also directed Othello, The Taming Of The Shrew and All's Well That Ends Well. At the Public Theatre, he has directed Marie And Bruce, The Mandrake, Mother Courage and Summer Evening.
His productions for Ellen Stewart's La Mama ETC, which included Carmilla and C.O.R.F.A.X. (Don't Ask), have played at every major European Theatre festival as well as in New York.
AVirginian by birth, Wilford Leach has taught for many years at Sarah Lawrence College, has received a Guggenheim as playwright, a National Endowment Fellowship as librettist and an Obie and a Tony award (for The Pirates Of Penzance) as director.
Edward R. Pressman, who was educated at Stanford University and the London Graduate School of Economics, elected not to join his family's toy business but instead set up partnership with writer/director Paul Williams to make films. Their first project, called "Out Of It", starred an unknown named Jon Voight. At the age of 21, the partners were given a two-picture contract. Pressman-Williams Company followed with a series of movies, some of which, like "Phantom Of the Paradise" and "Badlands", developed cult followings; and almost all featured yet-unrecognized artists.
In 1976, Edward Pressman formed his own production company, Edward R. Pressman Productions, Inc. (EPP), under whose banner have been made a variously innovative range of movies. These productions include avant-garde German.director Werner Fassbinder's "Despair;" "Paradise Alley," marking Sylvester Stallone's directorial debut; and "Heart Beat," starring Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek and John Hurt.
In addition to "The Pirates Of Penzance," EPP's current roster lists a science-fiction thriller, "The Demolished Man," and an espionage tale, "The Spike." Pressman was executive producer on "Conan The Barbarian."
Timothy Burrill entered the film industry in 1956 and worked for three years with a company producing documentary films. Later, he was associate producer on Sir Laurence Olivier's production of "Three Sisters" and Roman Polanski's film of "Macbeth." He produced "Alpha Beta" starring Albert Finney and Rachel Roberts, and organized the post-production of "The Three Musketeers." He was production supervisor on "Superman."
In 1978 Roman Polanski asked him to work on his production of "Tess," and Burrill Productions was formed to co-produce the film with Renn Productions. With Claude Berri, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film.
As the appointed managing director of Allied Stars, Burrill was responsible for financing "Chariots Of Fire" and "Breaking Glass."
SIR WILLIAM SCHWENCK GILBERT (1836 - 1911) -- The libretto SIR ARTHUR SEYMOUR SULLIVAN (1842 - 1900) -- The musicGilbert and Sullivan are the most famous team in the history of light musical opera. Gilbert wrote the books and Sullivan the music for a collection of 13 comic operas which were extremely popular in Birtain and North America in the last quarter of the 19th century and have remained so ever since.
Gilbert began as a barrister. In those days he also wrote much humorous verse and many funny stories for magazines. He was extremely witty in his conversation, though often at other people's expense. In 1871, he began to collaborate with Sullivan to produce comic operas, but their real success began when, in 1875, the theatre manager, Richard D'Oyly Carte, put on Trial By Jury. It was an immediate sensation, and the two men went on to produce 12 more, including HMS Pinafore, The Mikado, The Yeomen Of The Guard and, of course, The Pirates Of Penzance.
Gilbert was extremely quarrelsome, however, and the partnership broke up on one occasion for four years. After Sullivan's death he went on writing, and was knighted in 1907. He died trying to save someone's life in a pond near his house at Harrow.
Sullivan was the composer in the partnership. He had been an organist and choirmaster, and wrote some music which stands amongst the foremost produced by British composers of the late 19th century. Although he made his name and a lot of money out of the Savoy Operas, he always wished he could be better known as a more serious composer.
His work was recognized, however, when Queen Victoria knighted him in 1883.
One of the principal reasons for the success of this revival of "The Pirates Of Penzance" is William Elliott's adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan music.
Elliott received his training at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music. He composed the music for the NYSF productions of Othello, Henry V, Mother Courage and Summer Evening.
From 1971 - 78 he was Musical Director of La Mama. His score for C.O.R.F.A.X. is an Obie winner. An NEA and Rodgers & Hammerstein Award recipient, Elliott is also represented on Broadway by his vocal arrangements for Ain't Misbehavin'.
Graciela Daniele, who choreographed the Broadway production of The Pirates Of Penzance, repeats the same function on the screen version.
She was responsible for The Most Happy Fella and A History Of The American Film on Broadway and Naughty Marietta for the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center. Her other credits include Joseph And His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Die Fledermaus. Most recently, she choreographed Alice In Concert with Meryl Streep for the New York Shakespeare Festival.
Peter Asher was educated at Westminster School in London and at Kings College, London University, where he studied philosophy.
From 1964 to 1968 he was a member of the "Peter & Gordon" singing duo, who had 9 top 20 records in the United States, three of which were gold.
From 1968 to 1970 he was head of A & R for Apple Records, the Beatles' newly formed record company. In this capacity he began producing and managing James Taylor, whom he signed to the label. In 1973 he also began managing and producing Linda Ronstadt. As a producer he has been awarded 18 Gold Albums and 11 Platinum Albums. In 1978 he was awarded the Grammy for "Producer of the Year".
Douglas Slocombe has filmed such movies as "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," "Travels With My Aunt" (receiving an Academy Award nomination), "The Great Gatsby," "Hedda," "The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea," "Julia," "Nijinsky," "The Lion In Winter," "The Blue Max" and "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Slocombe was originally under contract to Ealing Studios for seventeen years where he lit, notably, "Kind Hearts And Coronets," "The Man In The White Suit" and "The Lavender Hill Mob." He won the 1964 British Academy Award for "The Servant."
Anne Coates received an Academy Award nomination for her work on "The Elephant Man." Most recently, she completed work on "Ragtime."
She has edited such movies as "Lawrence Of Arabia," "Becket," "Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines," "Hotel Paradiso," "11 Harrow House," "Murder on The Orient Express" and "The Eagle Has Landed."
Elliot Scott's film credits include: John Ford's "Mogambo," "Quintain Durward," "9 Hours To Rama," "The Haunting," "Tom Thumb," "Operation Crossbow," "Mr. Quilp," "The Incredible Sarah" (for which he received an Academy Award nomination) and "Dragonslayer."