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‘Pirates of Penzance’ comes to Royal Oak stage

High school students put together set, perform play Nov. 16-18

November 14, 2012

» click to enlarge «
From left, Jack Bennett, 17, Radiance Jones, 15, and Calvin Brown, 16, portray the Pirate King, Ruth the Maid and Samuel, respectively, during a Nov. 10 rehearsal leading up to this weekend’s Royal Oak Drama Club performance of “Pirates of Penzance” at the high school.

ROYAL OAK — For 133 years, “Pirates of Penzance” has sung its way to its fair share of laughs on stages across the world. This weekend, it’ll take the stage in Royal Oak.

The Royal Oak High School Drama Club will perform the comic opera at Royal Oak High School, 1500 Lexington Blvd., at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16-17 and 3 p.m. Nov. 18 after a student preview at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15.

The play’s storyline focuses on Frederic, a pirate apprentice who completes his contract on his 21st birthday. However, since his birthday is Feb. 29, he learns that his contract requires him to serve through 21 birth days, not 21 years, resulting in an additional 63 years of work with the pirates. Amid this backdrop, he falls in love with Mabel, the daughter of a military major general.

“Everyone loves sword fighting,” Director Ed Nahhat said in regard to the play’s selection. “People love pirates and pirates have been really popular lately. And also we have a really strong vocal program here at Royal Oak High School that I can’t take credit for, so I wanted to take advantage of the strengths that we have. We have good actors, good singers. We’re teaching kids how to move, how to fight. ‘Pirates of Penzance’ is the perfect choice for that, plus it’s something that everyone knows. It’s been made into films, into movies before, so I think it was a natural fit this year.”

Nahhat said Royal Oak’s Drama Club is different from those in many neighboring districts because he is not a teacher at the school and only a single drama course and an acting course are available beyond the extracurricular groups.

“I think it’s unusual in that our Drama Club is run by a non-teacher,” Nahhat said. “I enjoy it, I’m glad to do it. In terms of curriculum and institutional support, I think it’s actually a deficit, because I’m not a teacher. I’m not in the school every day. I don’t recruit kids in the morning and in the afternoon and I don’t have grading power. That’s one aspect of our program that’s different. We rely on commitment and enthusiasm.

“We want our students to do everything. From building to designing, to conceptualizing, to problem solving, to learning to work with tools, to learning to organize and lead each other, this is all sort of a full circle of activity. The focus of Royal Oak Drama Club is to put on a show where the students run the show. They build the show and design the show. I guide them and we have parents volunteering to guide, as well as some professionals volunteering to teach, but the key is all these students are owners of the show.”

Junior Hannah Wielgat, 16, will play the role of Mabel this weekend. She describes her character as one of the more strong-willed daughters of Maj. Gen. Stanley, played by Isaac Garrigues-Cortelyou.

“She’s kind of a diva, but she kind of gets whatever she wants,” Wielgat said. “All the girls are like, ‘Oh no, we can’t love Frederic because he’s like a pirate and that’s wrong.’ But then Mabel’s like, ‘I’m a big deal and I’m going to do whatever I want, so I’m going to fall in love with this fool.’”

In the weeks leading up to the play, the cast dedicated several hours to building the set, making the costumes and perfecting their roles. More than 50 students are involved and many spent Nov. 3 at the school putting things together.

“My entire life is go to school, stay at drama club until, like, 9 p.m., go home and do homework and then sleep,” Wielgat said. “I legitimately feel like now I am like eating and breathing and sleeping the show because I’m always dreaming about it, I’m thinking about what I can eat, because I can’t have sugar or it’ll affect my voice and affect my singing. I just can’t go without thinking about this show, because it’s my life right now. I won’t know what to do with myself (when it’s done), because this is literally taking up all of my time.”

Senior Jack Bennett, 17, plays the role of the Pirate King, whom Frederic, played by Chris Wagman, is indebted to.

“The Pirate King is a brash, zealous weirdo on a boat that is apparently crewed by noblemen who have gone wrong,” Bennett said. “I am a nobleman who’s gone very wrong.”

For tickets to the entertaining show, which cost $10 for adults and $5 for students, visit or contact those involved. Tickets ordered online by credit card include a $1 charge.

“Come see this play because I’m in it,” Bennett said with a laugh. “Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t, but you probably will. We’ll do everything we can to make sure that you don’t regret coming.”

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