Memories of Melody Top: Remembering Milwaukee's Summer Stock Theatre

Melody Top's only staging of a Gilbert and Sullivan piece, THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE opened a successful run from July 27 to August 8, 1982 in a production directed and choreographed by George Bunt. While Doug Sheehan from GENERAL HOSPITAL was billed above the title and thrived in his comedic lead as the Pirate King, Mary Ernster and Keith Rice sang beautifully in the roles of young lovers Mabel and Frederic. Carleton Carpenter, from MGM musicals of the 1950s, portrayed a befuddled Major-General Stanley. All of the wonderful photographs on this page were supplied by Midge Lindner-Cobb.

The Pirates of Penzance

Martha Webster and Doug Sheehan, THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (1982).


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Fresh approach for THE PIRATES

By Jay Joslyn, the Milwaukee Sentinel, Wednesday, July 28, 1982

With director-choreographer George Bunt back in charge, a fresh breeze once more blows through the Melody Top Theatre.

Tuesday night's opening of the new version of Gilbert and Sullivan's THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE was marked by compelling energy, infectious fun and splendid teamwork.

Robert D. Soule's set designs again were imaginative and the costumes by Mathew John Hoffman III regained style and line.

What is new in this version of the timeless hit operetta is a kind of American irreverence applied to traditional British subtleties. At the speed Bunt is driving his youthful cast, the irreverence is excusable and at times quite amusing.

Doug Sheehan, the production's name, apparently has done the job for which he was hired. His GENERAL HOSPITAL notoriety is selling tickets.

However, his portrayal of the Pirate King is lacking stylish punch and vocal strength. He is handsome enough, of course.

The real laurels belong to Keith Rice. As the operetta's slave to duty, Rice is brimful of vocal quality, high-style emotions and a mean sense of parody.

His Mabel gives Mary Ernster another opportunity to shine. The resident beauty exercises a splendid coloratura that provoked a show-stopping ovation.

Lanky Carleton Carpenter makes a fine, loose-tongued Major General, and Martha Webster is a delightful nanny.

The pirates, the ladies, along with the constabulary, are great, as is Donald Yap's orchestra, which has outgrown the pit and which attracts attention from the fun-loving actors.

The Pirates of Penzance

The men, minus Carleton Carpenter as the Major-General, of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (1982).

PIRATES is a winner for Melody Top

By James Auer, the Milwaukee Journal, Thursday, July 29, 1982

The Melody Top Theatre has had more than its share of ups and downs this season, but it's on a sustained high with THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE.

This slapstick reworking of Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 operetta is an absolute delight – a helium-light amalgam of shrewd direction, excellent choral work and energetic ensemble acting.

Yes, ensemble acting, because for once this hard-topped tent, star-ridden for so many years, has managed to slough off its devotion to the big names of Louis B. Mayer's era and cast a complete show to age, type and skill.

Nominal star of the evening is Doug Sheehan (Joe, the advertisements assure us, of television's GENERAL HOSPITAL). He plays the Pirate King and, not unexpectedly, he's earnest, hard-working and likable, if not the greatest singer in the world.

But the real star is the whole cast – Sheehan as augmented by Keith Rice as Frederic, the apprentice pirate; Mary Ernster as Mabel, the apprentice's would-be helpmeet; and Martha Webster as Ruth, the swashbuckling pirate lady who, at 47, is just too old to claim Frederic's 21-year-old body as her own.

Rice, in particular, is a mainstay of the evening, alternately naïve and commanding, wistful and forceful, and all the while ready to uncork at a moment's notice the highly trained voice he first brought to Milwaukee in 1980 in THE STUDENT PRINCE.

Webster, as his former nursemaid and would-be lover, has some wonderful moments, too, thanks to the wit and irony of Sir W.S. Gilbert, who never hesitated to mix cruelty with the treacle and to drop an occasional tear into his parodies of the saccharine plots of the period.

Effective on a somewhat lower level is Carleton Carpenter, the "Aba-Daba" singer of all those MGM musicals of a few decades ago.

Carpenter looks splendid as the senile Major-General who has fathered all those pretty girls the pirates want to marry, and he's gloriously wacky in some of his ganglier moments. But his speech is as incomprehensible as his smile is irrepressible, and his patter songs need a lot more polishing before Gilbert will stop twirling in that carefully tended grave of his.

This is one Melody Top production that is consistently stylish and melodic – as good to look at as to listen to.

Musical director Donald Yap, whose skill has kept more than one exercise in mediocrity afloat, has something to work with here. And he proves that, given the proper material, he can weld voices together in championship style.

George Bunt's direction and choreography are consistently inventive, and Robert D. Soule's scenery is an effervescent adjunct to the sometimes-goofy action. The costumes by Mathew John Hoffman III are garden-party crisp, just this side of ludicrous but at the same time really rather luscious.

The same could be said of the entire production. G&S plus Yap plus Papp (Joseph, that is, who revived PIRATES for the New York Shakespeare Festival) equals hit.

The show runs through August 8. If quality has anything to do with it, tickets will be at a premium.

The Pirates of Penzance

Doug Sheehan and James K. Seibel enjoyed a cookout on the Melody Top grounds during the run of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (1982).


The Pirate King:Doug Sheehan
Samuel, His Lieutenant:James K. Seibel
Frederic:Keith Rice
Ruth, a Pirate Maid:Martha Webster
Major-General Stanley's Daughter:Debra Dominiak
Major-General Stanley's Daughter:Suzie Jary
Major-General Stanley's Daughter:Donna Morgan
Major-General Stanley's Daughter:Reisa Sperling
Major-General Stanley's Daughter:Deborah Woodhouse
Edith:Deborah Bendixen
Kate:Susanna Wells
Isabel:Mib Bramlette
Mabel:Mary Ernster
Major-General Stanley:Carleton Carpenter
The Sergeant:K. David Short
Seymour:Jim Fredericks
Edward:David Nisbet
Pirate and Policeman:Peter Lerangis
Pirate and Policeman:David Loring
Pirate and Policeman:James Michael
Pirate and Policeman:Greg Schanuel
Pirate and Policeman:Gregg Willis
Pirate and Policeman:Kim Hughes
Pirate and Policeman:James K. Seibel
Pirate and Policeman:David Nisbet
Pirate and Policeman:Jim Fredericks

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE Orchestra: First Trumpet, Philip J. Ruecktenwald; Second Trumpet, Thomas Schlueter; Trombone, Kenneth C. Howlett; First Flute and Piccolo, John Hibler; Second Flute and Piccolo, Gale Stolz; Clarinet and Saxophone, Joe Aaron; Bassoon, Monte Perkins; Percussionist, Linda Raymond; Bass, Thomas Alan McGirr; Piano, Jon Olson; Drums, Roy E. Schneider; Contractor, Ed Mumm.

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