Blacktip Community Players Unveil “The Whaling Ship Essex” Operetta

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The Last Ballyhoo bar’s foyer will become the whaling town of Nantucket in the Blacktip Island Community Opera’s production of “The Whaling Ship Essex” Saturday night. (photo courtesy of Alison Diesel)

The Blacktip Island Community Opera launches its Fall Music Series Saturday night at the Last Ballyhoo bar with the original operetta “The Whaling Ship Essex,” written by director Doris Blenny and choreographed by her husband Jack.

The performance commemorates the 1820 sinking of a Nantucket whaling ship by a giant sperm whale. The 20-man crew spent the next 95 days in open whaleboats, eventually resorting to cannibalism before eight survivors were rescued.

“Everyone loves light opera,” Doris Blenny said. “The challenge here was to prove an operetta can make anything enjoyable. Gilbert and Sullivan would be pleased.

“Jack added modern dance flourishes, too, to draw in the younger crowd,” Blenny said. “Think ‘The Mikado’ meets ‘Stomp.’”

Much of the stomping is done by the whale, a papier-mâché behemoth with a plywood-reinforced head for ramming.

“With a costume so large, we really needed three people to make it move properly,” Jack Blenny said. “And the whale sings in a bass-baritone, so we were pulling our hair out to find someone with a singing voice so deep.

“Both problems were solved when Dermott Bottoms auditioned,” Blenny said. “He’s big enough to move the whale realistically by himself, and he’s the only person on Blacktip who sings in that range.”

“Dermott sings quite off key,” Doris Blenny added. “But when he’s searching for the right note it sounds eerily like real whalesong. It’s beautiful, really.”

Other cast members include Jerrod Ephesians as Captain George Pollard, Alison Diesel as first mate Owen Chase, Payne Hanover as Seaman Staines and Marina DeLow as Owen Coffin.

“No one wanted to play the Coffin boy,” Hanover said. “Except Lee Helm, but he’s always been a bit off. We banned him from rehearsals. He kept nibbling on the other actors.”

Musical highlights include:

  • A Whale of a Tale
  • Oh, Whatever Will Rhyme With Nantucket?
  • A Spout! A Spout, I Shout!
  • Stove by a Whale
  • Dry Bones
  • I Could Eat a Topgallant, Could You?
  • Why’s Roger, The Cabin Boy, Blue?

Cast members praised the production’s realistic special effects.

“We cut out the middle of the bar so the whale can burst up from below,” Alison Diesel said. “And there’s inflatable kiddie pools for him to crash into. Anyone in the first three rows is gonna get soaked.

“Plus, the Essex is made of sun-brittled polystyrene,” Diesel said. “When Dermot hits it, it blows all to hell and back!”

The operetta in sponsored by Starbucks and Slim Jim. All proceeds will go to the Blacktip Island Food Bank.

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