Tag Archives: operetta

Blacktip Community Players Unveil “The Whaling Ship Essex” Operetta


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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Underwater Opera Debuts on Blacktip Island

Hand-crafted costumes for “Nudibranch: The Operetta.”

Hand-crafted costumes for ‘Nudibranch: The Operetta.’

The Blacktip Island Community Players kick off their summer musical series Saturday with ‘Nudibranch: The Operatta,’ written by local divemasters and performed entirely underwater.

Plexiglas helmets will provide the airspace for actors to sing.

“We wanted something colorful and festive to celebrate summer,” musical director Doris Blenny said. “And what’s more festive than multicolored sea slugs?

“I’m continually astounded by the operatic and dramatic talent among dive staffs on this little island. We’re fast becoming the La Scala of the Caribbean.”

Original songs include:

  • Slime Trails in the Moonlight
  • Gastropod Gurls
  • Cerata, Cerata
  • Tough Enough For A Butt-Tuft
  • Sea Goddess in the Sand
  • I’m a Slight, Bright, Undersea Hermaphrodite
  • Three Nudibranchs on the Reef Are We

“The idea was to perform open-air,” Blenny said. “But then we thought, what better stage for sea slug-themed light opera than the reef itself?”

“Underwater is the proper setting,” co-writer and mezzo-soprano Catarina Porto said. “The water slows our movements and makes us more slug-like. The realism is uncanny.”

“It cuts down on drunks crashing the show, too,” said co-writer and contralto Alison Diesel. “That’s what ruined last year’s ‘Pirates of Penzance.’ I mean, it added realism and all, but it wasn’t right.”

“All the actors created their own costumes from locally-sourced materials,” costume master and tenor Payne Hanover said. “Some are coming up with colors and tuft configurations I honestly don’t think exist in nature. But that’s where art stops imitating life, I suppose, and we’re all about that.”

Limited kneeling will be available in the island’s underwater theater. Overflow seating and a live transmission will be available at the Sand Spit bar.

“The trick was finding a time when there was no hockey, basketball, baseball, rugby, soccer or cricket being broadcast,” Sand Spit bartender Corrie Anders said. “We tried to show the fall musical on a Saturday afternoon last year and a bunch of West Virginia University football fans about tore the place apart.”

Proceeds from the production will go to the Offenbach Scholarship for island divemasters bound for the Juilliard School.

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