A Gilbert and Sullivan Jaunt to Margaritaville

A Gilbert and Sullivan Jaunt to Margaritaville


Mr. Graney not only adapted Sophocles’s seven tragedies into a play called “These Seven Sicknesses” but went on to shoehorn all 32 surviving Greek tragedies into the 12-hour 2014 show “All Our Tragic,” which collected six Jeff Awards, celebrating local excellence in theater. Coming in April is his “Aristophanesathon,” which will explore 11 Aristophanes comedies over four and a half hours.

Such ambitions for a storefront theater come at a price. Last December, with the Hypocrites (and other local arts organizations) having struggled amid the distractions of the Cubs’ World Series run and the presidential election, the company canceled the remainder of its 2016-17 season. Mr. Graney said the subscription model wasn’t working for the organization, so advance ticket sales now fund the (fewer) productions.

Photo

Sean Graney, the artistic director of the Hypocrites, at the Chicago theater troupe’s rehearsal space.

Credit
Whitten Sabbatini for The New York Times

Before the Hypocrites first dipped their toes into Gilbert & Sullivan, Mr. Graney said he felt constrained by musicals because, for the most part, “you really have to do [them] by the book.” His solution was to search the public domain, and there he found “The Pirates of Penzance,” the 1879 comic opera, which he’d never seen.

“When I read the libretto without even listening to the music, I was like, ‘This is brilliant,’ ” said Mr. Graney, 45, an animated sort with a shaved head, squinty-eyed smile and penchant for high fives when he likes what a performer has done. “It’s so smart, and it’s so funny, and it’s so critical of culture and society without being meanspirited. Then I listened to the music, and I was like, ‘Why haven’t I listened to this stuff before?’”

Inspired by the director John Doyle’s penchant for having actors accompany themselves instrumentally, Mr. Graney decided that his performers would pull similar double duty, even though many of those cast in that first 2010 “Pirates” production weren’t proficient on their instruments. (All agree that their musical chops have improved significantly.)

Then, as the first previews approached, the director radically altered the way audiences would experience the show: Instead of sitting in traditional seats, theatergoers would become part of the action. (Such immersive stagings have become increasingly popular.)

“Guess what? They’re actually just going to be with you onstage,” said Christine Stulik, who plays Mabel and Ruth in the current “Pirates,” a beach-party inspired production. “We all panicked, clearly, but then it was really freeing, a gift for an actor. We couldn’t plan for anything, and that takes this huge pressure off. Whatever happens happens, and the audience responds so well in ways that none of us expected.”

The 2010-11 winter production transformed the basement of Wicker Park’s Chopin Theater into a low-rent Margaritaville, and the show proved so popular that it returned the following year and again in various locations, sometimes in rotation with Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado” or “H.M.S. Pinafore.”

The fleet 80-minute “Pirates” also hit the road, presented at American Repertory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theater, Actors Theater of Louisville and the Olney Theater Center in Maryland. After its New York stop, the show will travel to Pasadena Playhouse in January and, with “H.M.S. Pinafore,” back to the Olney in July.

Trailer: The Hypocrites’ ‘Pirates of Penzance’ at the A.R.T. Video by American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.)

Mr. Graney said New York is too expensive to do much for the Hypocrites’ bottom line, but “even if we break even, it’s really good to get money [to the performers], get people working.”

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