Everybody loves pirates, especially if they’re silly.

The first production of the 2019-20 Great Plains Theatre has lots of pirates and lots of silliness, said Mark Hanson, director of “The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty.”

“The Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty” opens Friday evening at the theater, 215 N. Campbell. An afterglow party with the cast will follow Friday’s performance.

“It’s just a funny, silly story with great music and catchy tunes,” Hanson said. “It’s very silly but we take it seriously.”

This is Hanson’s third season with GPT, but his first as director. The previous two seasons, Hanson was music director, said Chris Delay, GPT executive director.

“It’s a chance for us to have a familiar title, but it’s a rolling acrobatic, athletic performance on stage with people diving through the air and having sword fights to go along with the familiar,” Delay said.

One of Gilbert and Sullivan’s more popular operas, it’s been produced many, many times and Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt starred in a popular movie version released in 1983.

“It’s fun for all ages,” Hanson said. “It’s got pirates — and policemen.”

The story follows the fortunes of young Frederic, played by Layne Roate, who was in GPT productions of “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “Ragtime.” Frederic’s father told his nurse Ruth, played by Kimberly Camacho, to apprentice his son to a pilot. But Ruth, being hard of hearing, indentured Frederic to a pirate until his 21st birthday.

As Frederic is celebrating his freedom and regretting that, as a responsible adult, he will have to kill all his former friends, he learns that his birthday is actually Feb. 29, a leap year. A slave to duty, he decides he must fulfill his contract and stay until the 21st Feb. 29 rolls around.

About this time, a party of young women stumble upon Frederic and the pirates. Frederic has never met any women other than his old nursemaid Ruth and he is astonished at the sight. Romance ensues, naturally, to the consternation of the young woman’s father, the very model of a modern major-general.

“Pirates” will be familiar to many Abilene audiences. GPT Academy produced a version in summer 2017 with students in grades 5-12.

This production, too, has a young ensemble, Hanson said, who bring a lot of youthful energy to it. But it’s also an experienced ensemble.

“A lot of principles are returning,” Hanson said.

Matthew Aaron, who plays the Pirate King, returns to Abilene for his fourth season and 10th show.

Aaron is also the fight director and playgoers can expect lots of sword fights and other action, Hanson said.

For people not familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan, “Pirates” is a good one to start with, Hanson said. It’s approachable and some of the songs, particularly the patter songs, will sound familiar.

Gilbert and Sullivan poke fun not only at pirates and policemen, but at politics, at social classes and at themselves, Hanson said.

This is a pretty traditional production, Hanson said, that lets them bring their sense of fun.

The GPT board of directors wanted to start its 25th season with something old, Delay said, and “Pirates” qualifies. It was first produced on Dec. 31, 1879, making it 140 years old.

Hiring Hanson to direct the three summer shows “was an easy call because he’s the go-to person to take the helm artistically for the season’s shows,” Delay said.

Hanson’s other job is assistant professor of musical theater at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

For GPT’s 25th season, Delay said, the board decided to return to its schedule of six shows this year.

After its theater burned to the ground in August 2014, the professional company cut back to four shows a season, then went to five.

After “Pirates,” GPT will produce “Disaster” and then “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” this summer.

Contact Jean Bowers at reporter2@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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