'Pirates' will replace 'My Fair Lady' in Anchorage Opera lineup

Mike Dunham

Anchorage Opera has canceled its planned production of "My Fair Lady" and will instead present the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta "The Pirates of Penzance" on April 5, 6 and 7.

Kevin Patterson, the company's executive director, said the cancellation stemmed from licensing issues. Exclusive rights for major musicals can be purchased by a promoter with deep pockets and that's what happened with "My Fair Lady," he said.

"Licensing agencies reserve the right to pull performances at any time," he said.

"Opera generally doesn't have this problem," Patterson said. "Ninety percent of what we do is in the public domain."

For licensed shows, a presenter typically pays 8 percent of receipts to the license holder but most companies don't adjust their ticket prices to reflect that. In dollar terms that can mean as much as $30,000 to $60,000 royalties, he said.

Patterson got word of the licensing issue early in November.

"We had planned to do 'Pirates' next year," he said. "It's been more than a decade since it was done in Anchorage."

Of the three cast members already engaged for "My Fair Lady," two had previously sung "Pirates," he said, "so rolling over the cast wasn't a problem."

In addition to saving money on royalties with the Gilbert and Sullivan comedy, the company will also save by not having to mike the voices. The cost of amplification is "huge," Patterson said with a laugh. "Huuuuge!"

"Pirates" premiered in 1879 and has remained extremely popular. The "Pirate King" role is the theatrical forerunner of Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow. Enduring hit tunes from the show include "I am the very model of a modern major general" and "Hail, hail, the gang's all here."

A film version with Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline was released in 1983. Patterson noted that a Broadway production in the 1980s ran for 787 performances and won Tony and Drama Desk awards.

Ticket holders are being notified of the change. Only a handful have asked for refunds, Patterson said: "So far, knock on wood, I think this is going to work out."

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.