Director Misty Megia knew "The Pirates of Penzance" would be a winning show when Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre held tryouts a few months ago.
"So many amazing people auditioned," Megia said. "We have the best of the best. Then the first day of rehearsal, the pirates came dressed as pirates! They have been phenomenal."
The comic opera was written by Gilbert and Sullivan in the 1800s; an updated version by Joseph Papp premiered in Central Park in 1980, leading to a smash-hit Broadway run. The story follows a band of sentimental pirates as they encounter an eccentric Major General (father to a bevy of beautiful daughters) and deal with dim-witted young lovers and bumbling policemen.
"It's a timeless piece," Megia said. "We are using the Joseph Papp version, but we are keeping the historical pieces in it -- and having fun."
Megia, a Pleasanton resident, has a degree in directing from Cal State East Bay, although she started out as a dancer and performer, when she was only 5.
"I was a really shy girl -- I used to hide behind my dad all the time -- but they put me in theater and dance, and I found the voice I didn't know I had," she said.
Before college she did some directing, and she remembers that she always followed script guidelines. The instructors at Cal State East Bay approached things differently.
"They took everything I knew and threw it out the door," Megia said with a laugh. "At the time they had this guy who was all about the metaphor, asking what you wanted an audience to learn. It was such a different way of directing. It was so enlightening."
Megia received rave reviews in 2012 for the "Cinderella" she directed for San Leandro Curtain Call Performing Arts in steampunk version, which she called "a mixture of Victorian era meets sci-fi."
"The Pirates of Penzance" tells the story of Frederic (Nikita Burshsteyn), who was mistakenly apprenticed as a child of 8 to a pirate instead of a pilot. He is fond of the pirates but chooses, now that he is 21, to abandon the profession and "lead a blameless life henceforth," dedicating himself instead to getting rid of them.
Then he encounters the Major General (Scott Kenison) and his daughters, one of whom, Mabel (Aimee Roylance), steals his heart. "Pirates" is famous for the tongue-twisting lyrics of the Major General's Song. The Pirate King is played by Peter Budinger; the Sergeant by Joshua Gonzales.
The group has a run-in with the pirates before escaping on the false premise that the Major General is an orphan, a fact that touches these tenderhearted pirates because most of them are orphans themselves and "know what it's like."
Just as Frederic is ready to lead the police to confront the brigands, a secret is uncovered about him that appears to change everything -- but of course it all comes out right in the end.
"The fact that the story is based in music is such a fun challenge," Megia said. "There are some pieces that are so lyrically beautiful that we have the cast just stop because we don't want anything to compete with it."
Megia said one challenge for live productions is the fact audiences are accustomed to films, with cameras zooming in on the action.
"When you have all this organized chaos on stage, you have to be selective about what moments you stop the action because you don't have cameras to focus the audience," she said. "But this group is so talented and so sharing -- they understand the story and what needs to be communicated."
"They have a big heart for this show and want to make sure they're treating it well," she added. "It's a singers' show. Because the vocals are so difficult, you end up with people who are highly trained."
"The Pirates of Penzance" opens tomorrow night at the Bankhead Theater to run for three weekends, with producer Kathleen Breedveld, choreographer Christina Lazo and musical director Greg Zema.
"You rehearse, you rehearse, you rehearse with just the people. Then you start incorporating the props -- we have swords so incorporating those have been fun," Megia explained. "Then you add in the music, the live orchestration, so that always pumps up the cast. Then you get into the theater, you get the sets, the costumes. Everything inches along."
She noted that in community theater, everyone has day jobs. She herself works in sales and marketing in the technology industry and was just named one of the top 25 women in accounting for the training she does.
"After you work for eight, 10, 12 hours, sometimes you think, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm too tired,'" she said. "Then there's all the music and the singing and the fun that happens at rehearsal -- it's called 'theater magic.'"
Megia said although she knows they will be ready for opening night, she is always nervous.
"I sit in the audience," she said. "I sit there, the lights go down, and I hope the audience loves it as much as I do."
"I do it for them to have that little bit of escape from life, to have fun, enjoy it, take a breath and stop for a moment," she added.
Come aboard for some fun
What: "The Pirates of Penzance"
Who: Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre
When: Jan. 16-31; 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays with an additional Saturday matinee Jan. 30
Where: Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., Livermore
Tickets: $29-$43. Visit the theater box office, call 373-6800, or go to www.trivalleyrep.org.