A decade apart – brothers share role in The Pirates of Penzance

Ten years ago, Mars Hill Academy sophomore Peter Cunningham starred as the honorable yet naïve Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance. Last month, his brother and MHA senior Andrew Cunningham played the same leading role with his own sense of style.

“It was a dream come true. As a kid, I watched the movie The Pirates of Penzance at least once a day. It’s a show I’ve always wanted to do since I saw Peter as Frederic,” said Andrew of Liberty Twp., who served as a pirate usher when MHA produced the classic Gilbert and Sullivan musical in 2008.

During a special 10-year anniversary presentation, seventh-twelfth grade MHA students took to the stage March 22-24 at Parrish Auditorium in Hamilton as sentimental pirates, dewy-eyed daughters, and bumbling policemen. Set on a rocky Cornish coast, this musical comedy tells the story of a bumbling group of pirates and their young charge Frederic, who has decided it's time to hang up the sword and become a respectable gentleman. As the pirates attempt to bring him back into the fold, there are confrontations with the police and romantic entanglements with the Major General’s daughters. The youngest Cunningham brother, freshman Christopher, performed as a policeman during the show, which was his first MHA performance.

“I love seeing this next generation of Mars Hill students tackle some of the same vocally challenging work that we took on,” said Peter, who designed the set for this year's production. “The Pirates of Penzance is a great show and one worth performing over and over.”

Peter, who said Andrew’s voice training and acting experiences made him a perfect fit for the challenging role as Frederic, recalled his own difficulties on stage. During his opening night, Peter was to look through a telescope and then hook it onto his belt and wear it for the rest of the show.

“However, with all that extra audience-induced adrenaline, I collapsed my telescope with some extra vigor. As it closed, it caught my thumb, and I started bleeding on stage. I then had to hide my grimaces from the pain (and the blood!) for the rest of Act One,” he said.

Andrew, too, had some prop issues.

“I had the most realistic sword – it was metal, and whenever I would bend over, it would slide out,” he said.

Andrew, who plans to attend the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music this fall, will take to the stage again May 25-27 when the Royal Theatre Company in Mason presents Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Peter, MHA Class of 2010, has spent his time since graduation exploring and exercising his passion for the arts. He studied English literature, minoring in art and music, at Wheaton College and recently completed his Master of Architecture at the University of Maryland.

“It’s been quite fun to watch Andrew play the role his big brother played 10 years ago,” said mother Lisa Cunningham. “Each brought his own interpretation to The Pirates of Penzance, and I think the audience loved the new Frederic as much as they loved the old Frederic. Thanks, boys, for giving your best to the glory of God!”

Photo: A decade apart, Andrew Cunningham (left) and his older brother Peter shared the lead role as Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance.