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Skylight Music Theatre's 'Pirates of Penzance' Takes a Feminist Angle on the Classic Operetta

Like most operettas by the 19th century collaborators, Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance is full of glorious – and deceptively difficult – music and broadly drawn, almost stock characters of manly men and comely women. But while the show has been lauded for its satire, it's not exactly a "feminist" show. 

So when Skylight Music Theatre announced it would be the final show for the season celebrating women, some might have scoffed at the idea. Shawna Lucey directed Skylight Music Theatre's rollicking version of Pirates currently ensconced in the Cabot Theatre.

Skylight's artistic director, Viswa Subbaraman, specifically asked Lucey to direct the show with a decidedly pro-female slant. 

"Feminism and Pirates of Penzance. I though, 'How am I gonna make these silly girls feminist? And what am I gonna do about Ruth, and how does this work?'" says Lucey. "I thought about it, I went back to the text and that was a super helpful thing to do."

In re-reading the text, Lucey found it was so laden with irony that in many ways, it was written to be a mockery of then-modern concepts of gender norms. "I think with today's sensibility, embracing that and then trying to also put it on its head with this idea of gender fluidity, and what are norms and what are not norms, can only lead to great comedic effect." 

Skylight's production of The Pirates of Penzance runs through June 12th at the Broadway Theatre Center in Milwaukee's 3rd Ward. 

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.