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The Pirates of Penzance (1980)

| Comedy, Musical | TV Movie
A young man named Frederick leaves the zany band of pirates he was raised by to find true love and respectability, but when the Pirate King turns up to call on an old debt, Frederick must ... See full summary »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
G. Eugene Moose ...
Samuel - the Pirate King's lieutenant
Linda Ronstadt ...
Alice Playten ...
Marcie Shaw ...
Wendy Wolfe ...
Alix Korey ...
Soloist (Daughter) (as Alexandra Korey)
Robin Boudreau ...
Maria Guida ...
Nancy Heikin ...
Bonnie Simmons ...
George Rose ...
Tony Azito ...


A young man named Frederick leaves the zany band of pirates he was raised by to find true love and respectability, but when the Pirate King turns up to call on an old debt, Frederick must choose between the girl he loves and his sense of duty.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Musical





Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Taped live at Delacorte Theater, Central Park, New York, Summer 1980. See more »


Referenced in The 2014 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (2014) See more »

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User Reviews

Humorous melodrama
14 September 2004 | by (The San Francisco Bay Area) – See all my reviews

I saw this production of "The Pirates of Penzance" in and around 1982 in San Francisco. The only member of the cast not accounted for was Kevin Kline, who I believe was off filming "Sofie's Choice" at the time. His role was assumed by James Belushi during Kline's absence, who did a superb job of portraying the Pirate King that year. I had a great time seeing this production, and seeing this preserved performance brings back warm and welcomed memories.

This version of Pirates is exceptionally well acted, but, as the foreword on the DVD states, the print is limited by the technology at the time. I've seen the DVD on both high-res (definition) and on regular NTSC monitors, and, believe it or not, it actually looks better on older TV's (for which the technology of the recording was made). The result being that on a high definition TV set the hot-spots and washed out colors look even more distorted than they actually are on the master. Even so, on a regular television the image quality bounces from good to not-so-good, depending on the camera being used. The center camera (number 2 camera?) wasn't properly white balanced, and the washed out brights show, giving a real unprofessional look to the TV production. In fact, during the performance, the operator tries to stop down the camera, but the only result is sloppy camera work, forever preserved on DVD. Whoever coordinated this thing clearly didn't do their homework.

The same goes for the audio. For some reason the high fidelity of today's top of the line audio systems, for all their bells and whistles to enhance music and general audio, just don't deliver a clear sound of the performance. For some strange reason (probably because contemporary audio components try to "create fidelity" in source material where there is none) the regular old TV speaker delivers a clearer sound. Note; it's not a higher quality sound, but sound where both lyrics and dialogue are easily understood. On a digital stereo or home theatre the cast sounds very muffled by all the tonal enhancements, making the songs sound unintelligible. If you must view it on your home theatre system, then do yourself a favor and grab a book of lyrics. Otherwise you'll be left high and dry when the songs roll around.

But, if you can get by all the video and audio shortcomings (a lot to ask for) you should have a good time watching one the most memorable productions of Gillbert and Sullivan's Light Opera (or operetta, whichever term you prefer). Linda Ronstadt as Mabel plays the innocent young waif, who falls for the young dashing Frederick, played by Rex Smith. The performances are perfectly melodramatic, with a couple of contemporary nuances to make them really stand out for modern audiences. Each set of characters delivers an excellent performance; the daughters, the police troop/pirate-band, and of course the leads.

There're two mis cued gags, but the fact that they weren't laughed at is more the fault of the audience than the actors: Ronstadt's vocal competition with the local birds, portrayed by a flautist, seemed to fly over the head of the audience. And Tony Azito (the Police Sargeant) failed to get a laugh on his "...most perplexing" line, again probably because the audience's mind was on something else, or they didn't understand the context of the reference.

As you may know this particular production was so popular that a film was made, using most of the original cast. That is save for Patricia Rutledge of "Keeping up Appearances" and "Hetty Wainthropp Investigates" fame, who was replaced by Angela Lansbury (God knows why... most likely because Lansbury was probably a name the American public could identify with, and hence haul in more movie goers for more box office dollars). The film, from what little I saw of it, did little to enhance or give credit to the stage performance. The stage production was popular for a reason. The film bombed for similar reasons.

Part of the reason for that is because plays, particularly ones like "The Pirates of Penzance," really need an audience that can appreciate good theatre. That, and the era of the musical was dead back in the 70's and 80's (one or two exceptions). "The Pirates of Penzance," and specifically this production, was a smash hit on the theatre circuit. It was a thing that really couldn't be reproduced in a cinematic venue.

Fortunately the good folks at Kutlur Video have put together what is probably the only surviving TV broadcast version of this light opera, onto VHS and DVD. If light opera isn't your thing, then you may want to scope out the "teen-sexploitation" comedy version, starring Kristy McNichol, entitled "The Pirate Movie." That version lacks both music and charm of, what was then, THE NUMBER ONE stage production to see. "The Pirate Movie" is okay, but is more or less an attempt to cash in on teenage dollars (and cheaply, I might add).

Unfortunately the DVD of this legendary production of "The Pirates of Pezance" is priced around thirty smackers. A bit pricey for a reprint of a twenty-year-old 3/4" broadcast master, but, if you're like me and saw the original 1980's production, the performances more than worth the money.

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