The Pirates of Penzance enjoyed two premieres precisely because of pirates - copyright pirates. After the extraordinary success of HMS Pinafore, Gilbert, Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte determined to stop pirated productions of their operettas by establishing copyright under the new laws. Accordingly, while The Pirates opened in New York on December 31st, 1879, to American razzamatazz and rave reviews, a single matinee playing to fifty bewildered patrons in the sleepy and freezing Devon town of Paignton on December 30th gave the creative triumvirate the legal muscle they needed to protect their interest in this eagerly awaited new piece.

And who wouldn't be confused to witness a new operetta about Cornish pirates being performed by well dressed Portsmouth sailors wearing handkerchiefs on their heads and demonstrating only the barest familiarity with the words and music they were holding as they walked through a production taking place on a stage littered with random bits and pieces of scenery thrown together from the theatre's store? This was because Richard D'Oyly Carte's secretary, and future wife, Helen Lenoir, produced the original English Pirates purely for the legal record with the touring Pinafore company who were playing at the time in the nearby seaside resort of Torquay.

Not that the New York version was any less frantic in preparation. When the carefree Sullivan arrived in New York, he discovered that he had forgotten to pack his musical sketches for Act 1 and had to start again from memory. It's little wonder that he cleverly inserted his bottom drawer chorus from Thespis 'Climbing Over Rocky Mountains' to speed up the composition process. Act 2 was finished at dawn after Sullivan had slaved over Christmas, while the overture was not completed until the morning of the opening night.

Delighted by the topsy-turvy potential of duty, legal contracts, leap years and a preposterous band of aristocratic dimwits and picnicking, paddling bimbos, Gilbert described his new libretto as his attempt to Îtreat a thoroughly farcical subject in a thoroughly serious manner' - his recipe, in fact, for all the Savoy operas except The Yeomen of the Guard.

When The Pirates opened in London the day after April Fool's Day in 1880, it proved another Gilbert and Sullivan smash, running for 363 performances and being revived frequently in the partners' lifetime. In 1884, there was even a production by a children's company during the Christmas season at the Savoy - surely the ultimate accolade to any piece, that it can be as welcome as pantomime, that most loved and magical of British theatrical genres.

The Australian premiere of The Pirates was in 1880 in Melbourne with Howard Vernon as the Major-General and JC Williamson as the Sergeant of Police. The piece proved to be a goldmine for the firm of JC Williamson's for the next sixty years, while in 1969, Stephen Hall's production for The Australian Opera established Dennis Olsen as Australia's leading interpreter of the comic roles originally played by George Grossmith.

One of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company's traditional favourites, The Pirates exploded into new life on Broadway in 1980 with Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival production directed by Wilford Leach. In retrospect, it seems entirely appropriate that those two great British institutions, Shakespeare and Gilbert and Sullivan, should have been thrown together by American showbiz to introduce new generations to the delights of one of the world's greatest pieces of musical confectionery.

In 1984, this Broadway production burst onto the Australian stage starring Jon English, Simon Gallaher, June Bronhill, David Atkins and Marina Prior. An instant hit, it enjoyed three successful seasons throughout Australia until 1986.

As early as 1988 Simon Gallaher was attempting to revive the success of Pirates and approached Jon English who, although interested, was committed indefinitely to the television sit-com All Together Now. Gallaher tentatively approached publishers Warner Chappell in Australia to secure the rights to the Joseph Papp Broadway version but early negotiations were shelved due to English's lack of availability. The idea was revisited from time to time over the next four years or so but Gallaher was continually revising his concept and came to the opinion that a new update would be more appropriate as well as giving him far greater artistic control over the project. Gallaher set about recruiting his own creative team. He also continued to lobby the various arts and funding organisations around Australia with no success.

Gallaher originally hoped that his production would be commissioned by a major theatrical organisation and that he would package the artistic side and deliver the physical production to the stage for another producer. When this proved to be fruitless, he again revised his approach and endeavoured to sell-off a guaranteed number of weeks to companies that would then not have to underwrite full production costs to secure a musical for only limited playing time. He succeeded in selling three guaranteed weeks to The Lyric Opera of Queensland (Opera Queensland) and a further three weeks to The Burswood Casino in Perth.

Gallaher was now on his way with six weeks guaranteed but with further problems still to overcome. Firstly he was still having to underwrite the entire pre-production in advance of the first performances. It was still not viable without further seasons in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. His bank had lost confidence in the project and refused to advance any further funds as Gallaher was extended in many areas. He continued to trumpet the merits of his production to anyone who would listen and announced publicly to the press that the show would now go ahead and that he was looking for interested parties to assist with a Sydney season. A mysterious phone call was to save the day. A gentleman rang to inquire about the project and wished to see documentation saying that 'money would be no object'. The mystery continued as he only left a mobile phone number and a post box address. As Gallaher felt he had nothing to lose, he forwarded the information only to be contacted again two weeks later by the same gentleman who announced that the mystery investor wished to proceed. He could now reveal that it was millionaire entrepreneur and adventurer Dick Smith. Gallaher and Smith met and became good friends. Smith cautiously invested in the Sydney season but elected to take no further options. The investment was limited but was the catalyst in making the Sydney season and the rest of the Australian tour a reality. (Smith made a handsome profit from his limited investment and he and Gallaher remain good friends.)

From there Gallaher's fortunes never looked back. His new production was now scheduled to open across the country with the only uncertain area still being the new and revised (and untried) version of the show. There were many new ideas including the deletion of the female chorus and replacing them with a three-girl singing group. He acquired the licensing rights to the name of a former comic trio (The Fabulous Singlettes) who satirized girl trios of the sixties. With Beehive hair styles and outrageous costumes, Gallaher believed that this would breath new life into the century old piece.

He set about casting the other roles with himself and Jon English in the leads. He chose a new and contemporary comedian to play the Major General as again he felt it would put a new stamp on his production. Glynn Nicholas had success with anything from busking, to television to his own one man theatrical show. He was experimental and innovative with a public following quite different to Gallaher's or English's. Theatrical veteran Toni Lamond was cast as Ruth. Toni brought a theatrical credibility to the collection of players and a performance which was always polished and consistent.

As the Joseph Papp version in Australia had introduced a new soprano some ten years earlier in Marina Prior (who was now a big star) to play the role of Mabel, Gallaher cast a young Queenslander who had previously understudied Marina in The Phantom of the Opera. Helen Donaldson looked like a china doll and sang like a bird. The only other principal cast member left to secure was The Police Sergeant. In 1986, the third year of the Jo Papp run in Australia, the producers had stumbled across an unusual and unique performer who had an impressive bass voice and a body of rubber which could contort itself whilst doing an array of tricks with balls, skittles and unicycles. Tim Tyler originally replaced David Atkins and Jack Webster in that version of the show (1986) and Gallaher requested that he join the new company. At first Tyler was committed to other work and Gallaher was forced to look elsewhere. Just at the moment when others were almost signed, Tyler changed his mind and accepted the tour.

Creative work was well underway with designs and construction, musical arrangements and the like being a daily task of revision. The director Craig Schaefer was no stranger to the team. Schaefer came to Australia to assist in the staging of the Joseph Papp version ten years earlier. He was then choreographer and assistant director. Schaefer had worked his way up the ranks from ensemble in the Los Angeles production of Jo Papp's Pirates to dance captain and later assistant to the choreographer Graciella Danielle. He had coached and worked with many of the original stars to prepare them to take over a role from the previous artist including Andy Gibb.
There was an immediate chemistry between Gallaher, English and Schaefer. They remained friends over the years with Schaefer returning to direct Gallaher in a production of The Student Prince in 1987. When Gallaher married in 1990 Schaefer was Best Man. There was never any doubt that Schaefer would be director when The Pirates finally came together.

In May 1994 the show premiered in Brisbane at the Lyric Theatre (Queensland Performing Arts Centre). It was part of the 1994 subscription season to the Lyric Opera of Queensland where it was hoped that the opera company would attract patrons outside their usual base of subscribers and opera lovers. They were not to be disappointed. The season was practically sold out before it opened. Extra performances were scheduled and squeezed in around performances of the opera company's other production Rigoletto playing at the same time. The audiences screamed and the critics unanimously proclaimed it an outstanding hit. The changes and modifications were all met with enthusiasm including a revised and electronic finale (The Mega-Mix) which almost did not happen. The general manger of the opera company was incensed by the finale and requested that it be cut after seeing it at the final dress rehearsal. Gallaher refused but said that he would be the first to cut it if the audiences expressed the same contempt. The following night's preview audience was enthusiastic about the entire performance but when the Mega-Mix finale came to a close they erupted with cheers and roars and immediately rose to their feet. The Mega-Mix was there to stay.

Gallaher's Pirates went on through 1994 playing to capacity audiences wherever they went and to constant critical acclaim. By year's end (and only a little over 6 months of playing) it had played to over 500,000 people; was filmed for television which reached a viewing audience of over 2,000,000; and for Christmas was released on video which went double-Platinum within three months. 1995 saw a revised cast return to many cities (and some new ones) but the season was then promptly cut short as Gallaher needed his cast and team to open his next production by June 1995. This was to be (The Pirates do...) The Mikado! In 1996 Gallaher mounted a new production of his Pirates in New Zealand which ironically was a follow-up to his Mikado which premiered in New Zealand as 'Part One' in the soon-to-be trilogy of Gilbert and Sullivan. The Pirates in New Zealand had the cast of The Mikado including Drew Forsythe as the Major General; Bev Shean as Ruth; & David Gould as The Police Sergeant.

2001saw a farewell revival and Special Anniversary production commence with English and Gallaher again at the helm but with a new and fresh cast. This time veteran actress Sheila Bradley was to play RUTH and Gerry Connolly (famous for his impressions) joined as The Major General. David Gould came on board to play The Police Sergeant. David had earlier played the role for ESSGEE in the 1996 New Zealand production but this was the first time he would play the role in Australia and it completed the trilogy of roles for David. Yet another new soprano was discovered for the role of MABEL and this time the role went to Carmell Parente. New and revised costumes were designed by Graham Maclean which added a new edge to the show. The production originally scheduled only for Brisbane in 2001 went on to tour across the country in 2002 and into 2003 marking Gallaher and English's 20th Anniversary since first playing the roles. Even regional areas of Far North Queensland, Darwin and Tasmania were to see the live show for the first time in this final hoorah.

Essgee's Pirates is now being licensed to amateur group and schools across Australia & New Zealand and receiving great reviews and more full houses. International licenses have also been granted across U.K and USA. A new professional license was granted to the Harvest Rain Theatre Company in Brisbane Australia for 2015 where Simon Gallaher directed the show for the first time. It starred TV celebrity Andrew O'Keefe (nephew to Johnny O'Keefe) as The Pirate King, theatre legend Nancye Hayes as Ruth and TV Gold Logie winner John Wood as The Major General. It also introduced two newcomers as Frederic (Billy Bourchier) and Mabel (Georgina Hopson) with Dean Vince playing The Police Sergeant.

The Essgee 1994 version is released on DVD and has been sold to Pay-TV in Australia as well as across the world to various networks. There are at least three other version of The Pirates on film: the Hollywood movie of the Broadway production starring Kevin Kline as the Pirate King and Linda Ronstadt as Mabel, The Pirate Movie, (a vague adaptation) shot in Australia and featuring Christopher Atkins as Frederic, and the CEL Arts video with Keith Michell as the Major-General and Peter Allen as The Pirate King.

All of which goes to prove that in the case of The Pirates of Penzance, for 135 years and however many leap years, it is, it is a glorious thing to be the very model of a modern major general.

See: History of The Mikado
History of HMS Pinafore
Gallaher's beginnings in G&S