The Pirates of Penzance

It is almost always the case that alternative lyric songs are written by the cast members of a given production.  At the Last Gasp Cast Bash for our 2011 production of The Pirates of Penzance, however, two of the very best alternate lyric songs were actually written by a member of our orchestra and by an Assistant Stage Manager.

The following song, sung to the tune of “I Am a Pirate King,” was written by Jeffrey Ohlmann, our orchestra’s principal French horn player, and was sung by members of the orchestra.

Oh, better far to live and die
In the dark, hot pit, we try:
To play our most euphonious parts,
With a player’s head and a player’s heart.
Away to the lighted stage go you,
Where the audience can see you too;
But we’ll be true to the notes we play,
And back you up each show, each day.

For we are the orchestra!
And it is, it is a glorious thing to be the orchestra!

For we are the orchestra!
We are!  Hurrah for the orchestra!
And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be the orchestra.
It is!  Hurrah for the orchestra!  Hurrah for the orchestra!

As we have said elsewhere, it has been our intention to post alternate lyric songs in which the humor is universal and can be appreciated by anyone … not only by those involved in a particular production, who would understand the “inside jokes.”  We have decided, however, to make an exception to that general rule!

The alternate lyric song below, sung to the tune of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General,” is a delightful synopsis of story of The Pirates of Penzance.  While it does include a number of references specific to our company’s 2011 production of the operetta, we still felt that it was clever and humorous enough to be worth posting … as long as we provided a few helpful footnotes!

This song was written by Malka Key, one of our Assistant Stage Managers.  While she professes to be no singer, she sang the song to the assembled company as a solo and … to the amazement of all … did so with the song entirely memorized!  Enjoy!

You were the very model of an ineffectual pirate crew, (1)
But Frederick’s turning twenty-one, and soon he will be leaving you.
Thank goodness he is taking Ruth out of his sense of duty,
But he sees the younger maidens and finds out that she’s no beauty.

The maidens all reject him, but now fortunately Mabel’s come.
Then reappear the pirates for to marry them, yes, “marry” them.
The girls say their father is a modern Major-General.
He’s introduced at length and thinks his title rhymes with “mineral.”

His lie, or rather, “story,” saves the maidens from the pirate crew.
He’s risking death that’s gory, but then what else can a father do?
The pirates all are orphan boys, and so to him they can’t be mean.
They leave, and we will postpone for an act the en masse marriage scene.

We flip the rocks to tombs (2), but now it seems the Major-General’s sad.
He just bought a new escutcheon, but he told a lie and now feels bad.
Young Frederick is to lead police to wipe the pirates from the earth.
Appear the Pirate King and Ruth, consumed both in a fit of mirth.

It seems that Frederick, who we thought was twenty-one, is only five,
He will rejoin the pirates, for his sense of duty is his drive.
Oh horror!  He must tell them General Stanley is no orphan boy.
They’ll wait ‘til 1980 (3) to sing “Rapture, rapture!” and “Oh, joy!”

The pirates march with catlike tread upon the manor in the night.
They overwhelm the men in blue; they’re caught in rope without a fight (4).
But wait!  The sergeant has a trump card that will serve to win the game:
It turns out that the pirates yield if you invoke Victoria’s name.

The pirates of Penzance were all at one time in the house of peers.
It’s just that they had gone astray for five or ten or twenty years.
But now they will be wed and give up life with sword and pirate hat,
And once more, they’ll be lords, so good thing Richard kept his cricket bat (5).

Mabel marries Frederick and Edith gets the Pirate King,
The sergeant, Ruth, and Sam and Kate and one more chance to patter sing (6).
The daughters all get husbands, but there’s more of men than ladies, so
The nanny gets with four police, which goes to show you never know (7).

The Major General is once again in placid waters,
For he’s finally succeeded – whew – in getting off his daughters,
And that’s how our story ends, and if you bought it all, then good for you.
Just wait ‘til next year – Patience will find out that love’s a duty, too! (8).

(1)    Past tense … the Last Gasp Cast Bash party, at which this song was sung, was held the evening after the show’s closing.

(2)    In our 2011 production of The Pirates of Penzance, the set change  between the two acts, done by our Assistant Stage Managers, included turning some set pieces around so that the rocks painted on one side would be replaced with tombstones painted on the other.

(3)    Lesley Hendrickson, our director, decided to set the piece in Edwardian 1917, rather than its usual setting in Victorian 1877.  As a result, the traditional “coming of age” date of 1940 had to be moved up to 1980.

(4)    In our production, the fight scene between the pirates and policemen consisted of a few of the pirates quickly wrapping a long rope around the  policemen, trapping them as a group.

(5)    Our production emphasized the fact that that the pirates were all “noblemen who have gone wrong.”  Many of the pirates still sported their school ties, they all still enjoyed playing rugby, and one pirate … played by Richard Rames … used a cricket bat as his weapon, rather than a sword.

(6)    Our production restored Gilbert’s original reprise of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” before the reprise of “Poor Wandering One,” as an means of clearly establishing the pairings of the couples in the Act II Finale.

(7)    In the Act II Finale of our production, Major-General Stanley’s daughters were each paired with a pirate, now nobleman.  The policemen were not paired off, but were led off to the side, by Charlotte Morrison, who played the daughter’s nanny, to be read a fairy tale as the show ended.

(8)    Our next scheduled production, in the spring of 2012, will be Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience … in which Patience comes to believe … for a time … that love is a rather unpleasant duty.

Before the Last Gasp Cast Bash for our 1998 production of The Pirates of Penzance, one of our company members told her husband about the company’s tradition of singing alternative lyric songs at the party.  He was intrigued and decided to make a contribution.  Rather than writing an alternate lyric song of his own, however, he decided to share Tom Lehrer’s famous “The Elements” song, which is sung to the tune of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General.”  He transcribed the song, longhand, but as a professional chemist, he saw no reason not to simplify the task by writing down the chemical symbols rather than spelling out the full names of the elements.  Much to his surprise, however, no one at the party was actually able to sing the song as he’d transcribed it!

There’s Sb, As, Al, Se,
And H and O and N and Re
And Ni, Nd, Np, Ge,
And Fe, Am, Ru, U,
Eu, Zr, Lu, V
And La and Os and At and Ra
And Au, Pa and In and Ga
And I and Th and Tm and Tl.

There’s Y, Yb, Ac, Rb
And B, Gd, Nb, Ir
And Sr and Si and Ag and Sm,
And Bi, Br, Li, Be and Ba.

There’s Ho and He and Hf and Er
And P and Fr and F and Tb
And Mn and Hg, Mo, Mg,
Dy and Sc and Ce and Cs
And Pb, Pr, and Pt, Pu,
Pd, Pm, K, Po,
Ta, Tc, Ti, Te,
And Cd and Ca and Cr and Cm.

There’s S, Cf and Fm, Bk
And also Md, Es and No
And Ar, Kr, Ne, Rn, Xe, Zn and Rh
And Cl, C, Co, Cu,
W, Sn and Na.

These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard,
And there may be many others but they haven’t been discovered.

For those of us who are not as familiar with the Periodic Table of Elements as we probably should be … here is Tom Lehrer’s delightful alternate lyric song in its original, fully transcribed form …

There’s antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium,
And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium
And nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium,
And iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium,
Europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium
And lanthanum and osmium and astatine and radium
And gold, protactinium and indium and gallium
And iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium.

There’s yttrium, ytterbium, actinium, rubidium
And boron, gadolinium, niobium, iridium
And strontium and silicon and silver and samarium,
And bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium and barium.

There’s holmium and helium and hafnium and erbium
And phosphorous and francium and fluorine and terbium
And manganese and mercury, molybdenum, magnesium,
Dysprosium and scandium and cerium and cesium
And lead, praseodymium, and platinum, plutonium,
Palladium, promethium, potassium, polonium,
Tantalum, technetium, titanium, tellurium,
And cadmium and calcium and chromium and curium.

There’s sulfur, californium and fermium, berkelium
And also mendelevium, einsteinium and nobelium
And argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc and rhodium
And chlorine, carbon, cobalt, copper,
Tungsten, tin and sodium.

These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard,
And there may be many others but they haven’t been discovered.

Jim Brooks took the opportunity, at the Company’s 2011 Last Gasp Cast Bash, to reflect on the various parts he’d played in multiple Gilbert & Sullivan productions over the years, as a bass/baritone member of the chorus.  He did so in an alternate lyric song, sung to the tune of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General,” which he wrote and sang himself, joined by the assembled Company members who sang the chorus lines.

The Bass/Baritone

I am the very model of a G & S bass/baritone,
I’ve always hit the low notes, have the requisite testosterone,
I’ve played a ghostly spirit in the castle halls of Ruddigore,
And even was a gangster bad on Barataria’s desert shore,
A tourist with my family on that love boat we call Pinafore,
A baker making buns that rollick, ham, and jam that’s dinner for,
The Sorcerer wedding feast, Oh yes, I’ve sung them all in octaves low,
I’ve told you all I sing the bottom, that’s the part that fits me so!

Chorus

He’s told us all he sings the bottom, that’s the part that fits him so.
He’s told us all he sings the bottom, that’s the part that fits him so.
He’s told us all he sings the bottom, that’s the part that fits, that fits him so.

The Bass/Baritone

I’m certain with my vocal chords and throat and all my dentury,
I’ll sing no other part at anytime in this next century,
I’ve always hit the low notes, have the requisite testosterone,
I am the very model of a G & S bass baritone.

Chorus

He’s always hit the low notes, has the requisite testosterone,
He is the very model of a G & S bass baritone.

The Bass/Baritone

I got to play the banjo in Utopia, wore a uniform,
I also scaled the walls of Ida’s college, never saw her dorm,
The costumes in Mikado were expensive items from New York,
The singing parts in Patience never really ever seemed like work,
The lance I held in Yeoman, well, it looked just like a javelin.
The wig I wore in Grande Duke made me look just like de Havilland,
I even taught the cast to “rant” in one or two of our spring shows,
And even tried to sell you Thespis, that’s a loser Heaven knows.

Chorus

He even tried to sell us Thespis, that’s a loser Heaven knows,
He even tried to sell us Thespis, that’s a loser Heaven knows,
He even tried to sell us Thespis, that’s a loser Heaven, Heaven knows.

The Bass/Baritone

I’m certain with my vocal chords and throat and all my dentury,
I’ll sing no other part at anytime in this next century,
I’ve always hit the low notes, have the requisite testosterone,
I am the very model of a G & S bass baritone.

Chorus

He’s always hit the low notes, has the requisite testosterone,
He is the very model of a G & S bass baritone.

The Bass/Baritone

This year our operatic show was Pirates, Pirates of Penzance,
This was the second time I’ve sung it, and I knew I’d have my chance,
To wear a pirate hat, a sword, and sing my bass-like pirate part,
In Pour oh Pour the Pirate Sherry, backup Wally’s pirate heart!
But in the second act our “Catlike Tread” is in the higher keys,
I only croak the chorus like a frog from Aristophanes,
And when “Friends Plow the Sea” I’m in a range I’ve never been a’fore,
I don’t know why Sir Sullivan had all the crew sing tenor for.

Chorus

He don’t know why Sir Sullivan had all the crew sing tenor for,
He don’t know why Sir Sullivan had all the crew sing tenor for,
He don’t know why Sir Sullivan had all the crew sing tenor, tenor for.

The Bass/Baritone

While singing high can sometimes be a thrill and be adventury,
I’ll never hit that F-sharp any time in this next century.
I’ve always hit the low notes have the requisite testosterone,
I am the very model of a G and S bass baritone.

Chorus

He’s always hit the low notes, has the requisite testosterone,
He is the very model of a G and S bass baritone.