Mountain City folks had the opportunity to enjoy a little bit of Broadway this past week as the Wandr’ing Minstrels, a group of New York’s Gilbert and Sullivan Players, entertained the audience at Heritage Hall with excerpts from “The Pirates of Penzance.”  This funny and talented group of five performers took the stage as the audience settled back to enjoy an evening of music and laughter.
Before the show began, Evelyn Cook, who serves as president of the board of directors for Heritage Hall, acknowledged the hard work and dedication of many volunteers.  “A group of visionaries got together to make this happen so we can have the kind of program we have tonight.”  Cook continued.
Heritage Hall had its beginnings in the auditorium of the old Johnson County High School. With a lot of hard work and perseverance, this year Heritage Hall celebrates its fifth birthday. As of the end of 2009, there have been 70 performances and 3,500 volunteer hours from what Cook referred to as the “Heritage Hall family.” She added, “Without them we would not exist.”
The Wandr’ing Minstrels embarked upon their most recent tour from New York City with their first stop in our own Mountain City before heading on to Appalachian State University in Boone and then continuing south.  The group consists of five lead soloists.   The evening promised a little bit of everything, with performances from “The Pirates of Penzance,” to snippets of “H.M.S. Pinafore” and “The Mikado.”  This group of talented performers moved, sang, danced and narrated their performance across the stage at Heritage Hall with a lot of enthusiasm and energy. After just a few minutes, it was obvious that these individuals enjoyed their work as much as the audience appreciated their talents.
The “Pirates of Penzance,” a comic opera, is set in a resort town in England.  It tells the story of a pirate apprentice, Frederic, who has reached the age of 21 and believes his indenture is about to come to an end.  As the story evolves, the audience discovers that Frederic’s half-deaf nurse believed he was to be indentured as a pilot, not a pirate. Frederic has decided that although he considers his fellow pirates family, the life of piracy is not for him.
Frederic’s only exposure to women has been his nurse, Ruth, who is now 47 years old.  Once he makes it to shore, Frederic comes across many beautiful young women. He becomes smitten with Mabel.  While Frederic is enjoying the company of Mabel, the pirates that he just renounced suddenly come upon them.  Mabel’s father, Major-General Stanley, appears on the scene and rescues his daughter from the clutches of the pirates.  The Major-General convinced the group that he was left an orphan, appealing to a soft spot in the heart of the pirates. Frederic had believed he was no longer beholden to this group of pirates as he had turned 21. However, it was revealed that Frederic’s birthday was on February 29th, which only occurred every four years during Leap Year.   The pirates were holding Frederic to his indentureship as he technically had only five actual birthdays.  Even though Frederic would be 63 when released from his indenture-ship, Mabel agreed to wait for her love, Frederic.

 Act two opens with Major-General Stanley expressing remorse for misleading the pirates.  The local police become involved as they prepare for an attack by the band of pirates.   The leader of the pirates advises Major-General Stanley to prepare to die.  The police demand that the pirates stop in the name of Queen Victoria.  It turns out the pirates were true and loyal to their queen.   Ruth reveals that all of the pirates are truly noblemen who have gone astray. Major-General Stanley decides to forgive them all, allowing Frederic and Mabel to reunite.
Each of the five Wandr’ing Minstrels is a performer from the Gilbert and Sullivan Players.  “When I was a lad,” “Three Little Maids,” “Poor Little Buttercup,” and  “He’s an Englishman” were spontaneous requests from the audience.  The group, well-versed in all of the Gilbert and Sullivan performances, rose to the occasion and delivered with true professionalism.   Gilbert and Sullivan became famous for their patter songs, often used in comic operas and other musicals. The words of the patter song often become a series of tongue-twisting lyrics.  David Wannen, performer and managing director for the Wandr’ing Minstrels, set the audience into gales of laughter as he sang a patter song where some of the lyrics played on Bernie Madoff and the stock market.
For complete details please pick up your copy of this week’s The Tomahawk, available at local newsstands today!