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The Savannah College of Art and Design's media and performing arts department has taken on a tremendous challenge in staging its spring musical.

The comic operetta The Pirates of Penzance has a cast of 25 and 10 musicians in the orchestra pit. "It's big, it's really big," says Bruce Roach, a professor of media and performing arts at SCAD and the operetta's director.

"We have a big backstage crew," Roach says. "This is keeping us up 24/7. It's been a big production."

Performances are set for April 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. and April 25 at 3 p.m. at Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St. Tickets are $10 for the general public, $5 for students, seniors and children and free with a valid SCAD ID. To order tickets by phone, call 525-5050.

The Pirates of Penzance has been popular with audiences for 125 years. It was written by famed composers W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan on the heels of their earlier success, The H.M.S. Pinafore.

The story tells of Frederic, a young pirate, who falls in love with Mabel, the daughter of Maj. Gen. Stanley. When the other pirates in Frederic's band meet Mabel's sisters, they decided they want to marry them.

The major general tells a lie to stop the marriages. To earn Mabel's hand, Frederic promises to apprehend the other pirates, but learns that due to a technicality, he's still indentured to them.

A major Broadway revival of the operetta was presented in 1981 and ran for 772 performances. It featured Kevin Kline as the Pirate King, Linda Ronstadt as Mabel and Rex Smith as Frederic. A film version was released in 1983.

When writing their operas, Gilbert wrote and directed, while Sullivan composed the music. Their operettas not only are funny, they were considered among the most scandalous of their day.

Perhaps that's why The Pirates of Penzance remains so appealing and fresh. "It was chosen this season because it's the 25th anniversary of the college,"Roach says. "W're linking the 25th anniversary to the anniversary of the Broadway revival."

For their work in musical theater, Gilbert and Sullivan were idolized by the public and knighted for their accomplishments. The Pirates of Penzance is perhaps the best-known of their operettas.

"It is my own personal favorite of their works,"Roach says. "This was the piece that cemented their success as the foremost composers of the century."

SCAD's media and performing arts department is still fairly new. "Ithink it still takes people by surprise when they find out we do have performing arts here,"Roach says. "I am amazed by the quality of students that we have."

This is Roach's second year at SCAD. "I have been acting all my life," he says. "Ihad been teaching part-time as an adjunct professor at several places."

But when Roach came to SCAD, that all changed when he left professional acting to teach full-time.

"It has been a real adjustment," he says. "Productions like this one require a very different kind of performing that what they are used to doing,"he says.

"We've really been using the production as a workshop production," Roach says. "We say it's almost a class itself. We usually rehearse every week night for four hours and five hours on Saturday and Sunday. It's a huge commitment for the students and faculty."

Students were warned not to audition if they couldn't commit wholeheartedly to the production. Roach is delighted with the results, and thinks audiences will be, too.

"If you think you know what Gilbert and Sullivan are all about and aren't interested, come anyway, because you are going to be surprised," he says. "If you already love Gilbert and Sullivan, come because you are going to hear some glorious music."

The production is suitable for all ages. "It's very funny,"Roach says. "They're really comic characters I think anyone can enjoy.

"It is a great date show," he says. "It appeals to a wide audience. In fact, I think everyone should come." w

Pirates of Penzance will be perormed April 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. and April 25 at 3 p.m. at Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St. Tickets are $10 for the general public, $5 for students, seniors and children and free with SCAD ID.