Gilbert & Sullivan: 'Pirates of Penzance'

Congratulations to the Gilbert and Sullivan Company of El Paso on their golden anniversary.

To celebrate the milestone, the group is bringing to the stage of First Presbyterian Church “Pirates of Penzance,” the 1879 parody of high opera and high society.

“This is the most all-out, exuberant show of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas,” said Stephanie Conwell, artistic director and co-producer of this month’s production. “It’s family-friendly, colorful, and silly and has pirates yelling and running around everywhere!”

The 50th anniversary cast features some 45 men and women, including young voice students from UTEP and longtime Gilbert & Sullivan veterans.

“Pirates” was Conwell’s own first show in 1986. Back then, Conwell’s mother, Margarete Conwell, sewed her costume, and then went on to craft entire wardrobes for other company shows. This time, she’ll be singing in the chorus

Two others in this year’s cast sang in “Pirates” 33 years ago: Elisa Williamson and Marsha Watley, who is this show’s co-producer and vocal director. 

They are part of a long line of El Pasoans who have sung, acted and danced in company shows over the last half century.

 “We are extending a special invitation to all former cast members on opening night,” Conwell said.

El Paso’s Gilbert and Sullivan group – founded in 1969 by UTEP professor Joan Quarm, its first artistic director – is among a shrinking network of such societies around the globe dedicated to the comic operas by British playwright W.S. Gilbert and composer Sir Arthur Sullivan. 

The pair is known for witty dialogue, funny rhymes, and catchy songs, along with twisting plots and fun characters that singers have loved portraying since the 1870s.

The El Paso group is only one of three in Texas – with the other two in Austin and Houston.

Summer Musical Theatre Intensive: 'Little Women'

In one of the year’s most interesting collaborations, three diverse arts organizations for young people are combining forces to present “Little Women: The Broadway Musical” at El Paso Community College July 19-21. 

One group focuses on acting, one trains singers, and one teaches dance – put them together and you have what it takes for a musical. 

Last month, they launched the El Paso Summer Musical Theatre Intensive – six weeks of theater, singing, and dance classes and activities for children and teenagers. 

ActorSpace, offering acting lessons and workshops, is represented by its founder, Greg Thompson, as the director, choreographer and theatre instructor. 

Youth Opera of El Paso artistic director Kimberley Wolfenbarger-Nakamoto is the program’s music director and voice instructor. 

KidsExcel is represented by dancer Stephanie Rangel as the show’s dance instructor and associate choreographer.

The theatre intensive musical camp ends in a public production of the 2005 Broadway show adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” 

At 150 years old, the beloved novel continues to draw readers, especially young girls asking themselves which March sister they resemble: romantic Meg, independent Jo, sweet Beth or artistic Amy, the spoiled baby of the family. 

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