Whidbey Playhouse to present the classic comedy, “Pirates of Penzance”

Ron Wohl could get used to performing at the Whidbey Playhouse.

Wohl, an Anacortes resident known around Skagit County for his theatrical flair, is making his Whidbey Playhouse debut in the popular comic operetta, “Pirates of Penzance,” which opens Friday night.

His first onstage experience in Oak Harbor has been memorable so far.

“It’s a pretty short drive down here from my house,” said Wohl, founder of Skagit Opera. “Sometimes, it only takes 25 minutes and it’s probably the most beautiful drive anywhere.

“Lately, with the good weather and sunsets on the way home, it’s a really nice part of the experience.”

“Pirates of Penzance” is a bit old hat for Wohl, who’s performing in it for the fourth time. However, this is the first time he’s played the role of the Pirate King.

“It was sort of on my bucket list,” he said.

Wohl joints a cast of new performers to the playhouse mixed in with familiar faces, all assembled under the direction of Sarah Russell, giving audiences a blend of music, comedy and adventure.

“It’s been fun to watch them grow,” Russell said.

Among the more seasoned performers in a key role is Nate Edmiston, who plays Major-General Stanley.

Like Wohl, Edmiston called the opportunity a “bucket list” part he had long wanted to tackle.

Retired from the Navy for about a year, Edmiston is in his ninth production at the playhouse.

“I love the show. You grew up with it,” Edmiston said. “During my tours, I was stationed over in Newquay, England, which is right in that area of Penzance and Mousehole and Bodmin Moor, which is where all the pirates and smugglers were in England. That’s down in the west country. That was the wild, wild west of Wales and the English were kind of like, ‘We’re just going to leave that alone. We don’t want to go in there.’ ”

Edmiston got a feel for all of this lore while visiting the famous Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.

“You go in there and there’s a big plaque that says that so and so was shot dead on this spot in 1753,” he said. “This is exactly what you’d expect to find in Tombstone (Ariz.). You’re talking to a bird and the bird talks back to you and the bird is like 80 years old.”

“Pirates of Penzance,” written by W.S. Gilbert and composed by Arthur Sullivan, is a favorite of community theater that appeals to wide audiences, producer Ken Grigsby said.

It involves an elaborate set and costumes and a thrust stage that brings the performers up close and personal to audience members.

Set designer Bud Anderson assembled much of the set off site and brought it to the theater in a few large pieces, Grigsby said.

Cassandra Woodcock played the duel role of costumer and performer and shares the stage for the first time with her husband Matthew Woodcock, who hails from England.

The cast also features Joel Green, who plays the Pirate King’s lieutenant, Samuel; Chris Barrett, who plays Frederic, the Pirate King’s apprentice; and Thomas Clatterbuck, who plays the Sergeant of Police.

Playing the roles of General Stanley’s daughters are Cassandra Woodcock and three newcomers to the Whidbey stage: Katherine Roberts, Lisa Judd and Taylor Pruss Berthiaume.

Mary Waters also is making her Whidbey Playhouse debut in the role of a pirate maid, but has an extensive musical background as does Berthiaume.

Berthiaume, a long time guest music teacher at Olympic View Elementary School, recently returned to Oak Harbor, where she grew up in a musical family.

She recalls the only other time “Pirates of Penzance” was performed at the Whidbey Playhouse in 1985 when her dad, James Pruss, was playing the role of the Pirate King.

Back then, Russell was still director and Berthiaume was just a wide-eyed observer trying to take it all in.

“I remember exactly where I was sitting,” Berthiaume said. “I came with my mom and I was, I think, 4 or 5 years old. I can remember watching it. It was fun memories. I think it was my first time watching a live performance.”

Now, she’s on stage and her presence is felt.

“Her voice is incredible,” Edmiston said.

“We’re really blessed to have her be a part of the community,” Russell said.

 

Pirates on deck

Pirates of Penzance, Gilbert and Sullivan’s popular comic operetta, opens Friday, May 29 at the Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor.

Directed by Sarah Russell, the production goes through June 21.

Tickets are $20 with some discounts available.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. for Sunday matinees. Call the box office at 360-679-2237 for more information, show dates and reservations or go to www.whidbeyplayhouse.com.