OSWEGO — The SUNY Oswego theater and music departments’ presentation of “Space Pirates of Planet Penzance” will open at 7:30 p.m. April 22, in Hewitt ballroom, transporting its musical musings on love and duty into the future.
The futuristic adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera continues its run at 7:30 p.m. April 23 and 29, with a finale at 2 p.m. May 1.
The curtain will rise on a preview at 7:30 p.m. April 21.
Oswego native Ryan Benson Smith, a freshman at the college, stars in the role of young pirate apprentice Frederic, who is about to be emancipated but lacks experience of the world beyond the spaceship.
Smith, though, is hardly a stage rookie — he has been acting for a decade in community and school theater, including a role in the children’s ensemble of “A Doll’s House” at SUNY Oswego in 2008.
“I was very surprised to get the role of Frederic,” said Smith, who dual majors in theater and business administration. “I was kind of intimidated at first, but once we started rehearsals, it got a lot easier. I sort of eased into things a bit.”
Visiting director Donald Garverick adapted the play, setting it in the future and tweaking the lyrics of the 19th century play to make them relevant to 21st century audiences.
For example, the character of Frederic — who is indentured to the space pirates — picks up the last name Skywanderer, and the pirates, including the women, are armed with space-age weapons.
Smith, as Frederic, also acquires a nuanced relationship with the only “woman” he has known, a robot named RU-3P.O., played by sophomore theater major Alexandra Matsu, who serves as maid for the crew and nanny to the young apprentice.
Matsu said her character, known as Ruth in the 1879 original of “Pirates of Penzance,” has become somewhat analogous to the robot Wall-e of animated movie fame.
“She begins feeling emotions,” Matsu said. “She doesn’t feel much, but what she’s feeling is strange.”
Frederic, who wants to shun the pirate life after his apprenticeship but learns he must serve another 63 years, falls in love with Mabel (Ashley Domenech), a daughter of Major-General Stanley (Evan Debevec-McKenney).
Though RU-3P.O. had mistakenly apprenticed him to a pirate — his parents had meant “a pilot” — the robot feels an awakening sense of protectiveness.
“She loves Frederic and it’s a very selfish love,” Matsu said. “She doesn’t know where it’s coming from, but she wants him happy.”
Frederic’s sense of duty and desire to please lead him astray early in the play.
“He doesn’t really know how to say no,” Smith said. “Throughout the show he learns how to make his own decisions.”
Smith, a member of the college’s State Singers, acknowledged that he’s never before sung a lead role in a musical, nor a stage solo.
“It didn’t really hit me until the first run-throughs that, ‘Wow, this is a lot of singing,'” he said.
Yet working with Todd Graber, chair of the music department and musical director of the play, and State Singers director Mihoko Tsutsumi, the actor said he has come a long way.
Matsu said she is happy that “Space Pirates of Planet Penzance” portrays empowered, more up-to-date women than did the original.
Women “want more interesting roles to play,” she said. “By putting them in the future, you can give the actors interesting characteristics, more interesting things to do.”
Tickets are $15 ($7 for SUNY Oswego students) and are available at all SUNY Oswego box offices, online at tickets.oswego.edu or by calling 315-312-2141.
All tickets for the preview are $5.
Parking is included in the price of a ticket, and is available in the employee and commuter lots in front of Culkin Hall and in the rear half of the lot behind Hart and Funnelle residence halls.
Patrons with disabilities needing assistance should call 315-312-241 in advance of a performance.