The year is 1980. Columbia University student Mark Beudert stood at the edge of the stage, coming in on the right note along with the rest of the chorus, as Kevin Klein and Linda Ronstadt rocked the house in a wildly successful Broadway production of Pirates of Penzance.
Fast-forward 32 years and leap across the nation, Beudert is back at it again. This time he fills the director’s chair, but still utilizing the lessons he learned as a sophomore to inform a new production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic.
First and foremost among those lessons is a clear disinclination for gimmicks. This production is in “full faith with the original text,” Beudert notes. Harkening back to that long ago Broadway production, Beudert says, “What impressed me about Kevin Kline (and others) were that they were serious, intelligent, intense artists who were respectful of the original material.” Describing Kline’s performance, he noted, “If you can trust the material, all you have to do is be good.”
So don’t expect this production to go digging in the gutter (or trolling the internet) for pop references to keep you entertained. “I keep telling my chorus,” Beudert says, “if you don’t do it in real life, don’t do it on stage.” Of course, I say to Beudert, these are theater people, so heaven knows what they do in real life. No comment.
Producing a light, clever Gilbert and Sullivan piece is like a field day for opera people, for whom an ordinary day’s work might include long-winded death scenes and the most tragic love stories. “We’re enjoying ourselves more than is probably legal,” Beudert admits. For those unfamiliar with the plot, it is a wonderfully goofy love story between a pirate and the daughter of a “modern major general,” with more outrageous plot twists than a choose-you-own-adventure story.
I asked how similar this production would be to his original experience with the work, and Beudert says, “Very reminiscent … It is a particular pleasure to be revisiting it.”
Beudert’s day job is running the opera program at the University of Notre Dame, yet he spends as much time with the Eugene Opera as he can. His enthusiasm for Eugene Opera bubbles forth as we speak, “Eugene has always been known for snagging really good artists, really young.” While, he says, “all the singers are excellent,” Beudert seems particularly excited about “our Pirate King (Mark Walters), a well-known, up-and-coming American baritone specializing in the great Verdi roles.” He is also thrilled to be working with Angela Theis and Joshua Dennis, “our Mabel and Frederic, two young singers on the cusp of great careers.”
When I ask what he hopes to leave audiences with after the production, it is clear that he wants us to take away the same gift this production has given him: “Joy.”
Pirates of Penzance runs 7:30 pm Friday, Dec. 28, and Monday, Dec. 31, and 2:30 pm, Dec. 30, at the Hult Center; $20-$84.