Pirates on Playgrounds

By L.J Richardson
Spring Arbor University brings Gilbert and Sullivan to the stage

After a sabbatical semester Jen Letherer, associate professor of communications, returned to the stage to direct W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s comic operetta “The Pirates of Penzance” which showed in White Auditorium on Feb. 9-11 at 7:00 p.m. and on Feb. 12 at 3:00 p.m.

The decision to produce “Pirates” was a collaborative choice agreed upon by Dr. Mark Douglas and Dr. Natalie Emptage-Downs along with Letherer.

“[Natalie] said we had the voices to do a Gilbert and Sullivan Show,” Letherer said. “”Pirates” seemed the most accessible, and I came up with the idea of setting it on a playground.”

Photo by Kimmee Kiefer 

“The Pirates of Penzance” is historically set on the shores of England.

Letherer said, “The story is ridiculous, most opera stories are, and that’s why I think it’s funny we’re setting it on a playground. It strikes me as the kind of story people would just make up.”

According to Letherer, “Gilbert and Sullivan were the Shakespeares of musical theatre. The appeal of Gilbert and Sullivan is the music is incredible, the way it is scored is very memorable, clever, witty, wordy and beautiful. The integrity of the story and the integrity of the music carry it above and beyond.”


Photo by Kimmee Kiefer


In a show fraught with pirates, maidens and major generals, Letherer said truth and how it effects the characters was the overall message of the show: “Sometimes truth causes us to leave the ones we love and distance ourselves from those we care about when they are dishonest.” Letherer’s vison is that those who watch the play will examine the truth in their own lives.

Letherer said the one emotion that she wanted audiences to experience at the end of the show was joy. “As the finale states, ‘Poor wandering ones, though thee hast surely strayed, take heart of grace, thy steps retrace, poor wandering ones. Take heart.’”