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'Pirates' ready to set sail in Freed Center Production

The cast for the upcoming show,

The cast for the upcoming show, "The Pirates of Penzance," do a full run-through for the first time after learning the music and dialogue in just under two weeks. Resident Artist and Musical Theater Program Director Kirsten Osbun Manely will be directing the show for the first time since 1993. (Northern Review photo / Nathan Grizenko)

This article is the first installment in a three-part series in which the reader is introduced to the art of musical theater and learns how the cast and director work together to produce a stunning performance.

William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s whimsical and comedic operetta, “The Pirates of Penzance,” will return to the Freed Center for the Performing Arts April 6-9 since its last showing in 1993.

Kirsten Osbun Manley, the program director of the Ohio Northern University’s musical theater program, is directing the show with the intention of exposing her students to a new style of music to challenge them vocally.

Manely decided to do an operetta since one has not been performed since the 1999 performance of “H.M.S. Pinafore.”

Operettas are what Manley refers to as the “bastard child of opera,” characterized by their witty, light plots and “catchy tunes.” The subgenre was developed from British and French traditions and eventually stemmed from American musical theater.

“I want my students to be exposed to this particular art form,” Manley said. “They need to learn to sing chorally, really sing in a legit style as in a choral ensemble as well as solo. They need to have the chops, the technique to sing it.”

For two weeks the cast, composed of musical theater majors and music majors, solely focused on music and dialogue. It is imperative that they use proper vocal technique as they will not be allowed to wear body microphones during the performances.

Manley said the integration of both musical theater majors and strictly music majors is becoming a much more popular practice in theater. She attributes her support for this movement to her personal preference of a “likeable” cast:

“I don’t look at majors; I look at who’s going to fit the role the best and who’s going to be believable in the role,” Manley said. “When I look at the show, [I ask myself] who’s the most believable, and who has the technique to do it and the likeability factor as a performer? Who has a truth, joy behind what they’re doing?”

Music majors typically sing more classical literature, making them very strong vocally, especially for opera, which requires strong vocal technique. Musical theater students are exposed to different music styles including pop rock, legit style, and contemporary musical theater.

Furthermore, musical theater students are encouraged to attend opera workshops and join choir to develop their vocal techniques; vocal and music majors are encouraged to take acting, movement, and dance classes.

Junior musical theater major Benjamin Frankart plays Frederic, the love-struck pirate apprentice. His part involves minimal breaks between the arias, meaning he will need to condition his voice to project it consistently throughout the show.

“Singing without a mic, particularly in the style of operetta and opera, is something I don't think many of us in the cast have [done], which is why I'm so thrilled to be able to do ‘Pirates’ before I graduate,” he said. “Although you should always be singing in a healthy manner and with support, without a mic it becomes more imperative that you're conscious of the way you're producing sound.”

Katelyn Patterson, a sophomore vocal performance major, said she was looking for a theater program that allowed this sort of collaboration between theater and music majors after deciding to transfer from a previous degree.

“I think the beauty of being able to pull from a wider talent pool is that you have a broader selection of talent to pick and choose from,” she said. “It gives you the ability to examine skill sets outside of the usual casting pool.

“I came from a degree that had me performing and working on shows while in school, and it's great that I can continue that here at ONU, even while no longer pursuing a theater degree.”

For the next few weeks, the cast will prepare themselves to not only remember dialogue and lyrics but also determine how they will interact with the set and other characters.

“I think that the most important thing now is to really work on shaping our characters and not losing what we've accomplished in music rehearsals,” said junior musical theater Nate Kiliany. “We need to make sure that, on top of singing well, we are also interesting characters that people want to watch for two hours."

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