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By JOHN LEE McLAUGHLIN
Daily News Staff Writer
The skeletons of old Ketchikan’s closet will spill out for the 51st time this year, as First City Players readies to retell the city’s original melodrama of fish pirates, hookers, upright citizens and their checkered pasts.
Doors open for “Fish Pirate’s Daughter” at 7 p.m. Friday at the Ted Ferry Civic Center in Ketchikan, with an accompanying seafood dinner served at 7:30 p.m. The hammy musical is then set to start by about 8 p.m. Friday at the civic center, according to FCP.
Additional dinners and performances will be held each Friday and Saturday night through July 22 at the center.
FCP Executive Artistic Director Elizabeth Nelson has returned to direct the production, and Joe Linehan also has returned to perform the lead role of J.P. Svenson. New and not so new to the cast, the remaining roles include:
• Matt Armstrong as Hopson.
• Cade Browning as Kurt.
• Jillian Piazza as Little Nell.
• Katherine Tatsuda as Miss Maypole.
• Maria Dudzak as Miss Woolwine.
• Xavier Jones as Sweet William.
• Harmila Earth as Violetta LaRosa.
• Tyler Jones as Ed.
• Estelle Cowie as Tony.
The “ladies of the line” are Kelly Burke, Rachel Funk, Samantha Funk, Hillary Hammond, Kathleen Kloep, Suzanne Linehan, Jessica Lutton, Carolina Stuart and Tessa Will.
The story is old, so it’s the cast that makes things fresh.
“Obviously, different people are going to bring a little bit of a different bent to it,” Nelson said. “There’s really strong years. There’s years that you wonder why it’s lived 51 years. Recently, we’ve had a really wonderful string of great casts. This year is no different.”
“There’s a number of repeats from last year, and then a lot of new people” she said. “I say, if they can still make me laugh, they’re doing something right.”
As the story originally created by Bob Kinerk and Jim Alguire loosely goes, the shack-bound J.P. Svenson has been robbing fish traps in 1930s Ketchikan, just to pay for his daughter’s college education.
He’s finally paid off the debt, and no one can know of his dirty deeds, especially his daughter, Little Nell.
She is due to return home any minute from college and eventually marry the high-principled Sweet William, the U.S. commissioner of fish.
Side note: His mother, Violetta LaRosa, is an infamous local hooker, but the deeply upright Sweet William sweetly isn’t privy to the hypocrisy of his own origin.
Sweet William also doesn’t know of Svenson’s past of burgling fish traps — perhaps the very thief he’s been chasing — and if Sweet William does find out, the planned matrimony with Little Nell is certainly off.
Enter Kurt, a local fish-pirate ringleader. He ultimately blackmails Svenson to keep stealing fish for him. If not, Kurt threatens to spill Svenson’s beans and ruin everything.
But once Kurt catches sight of the sassy, high-minded Little Nell, he falls in love and devises an off-kilter plan with two local drunkards, Ed and Tony, to kidnap Little Nell.
That’s so he can profess his love, and if he must, ask for her hand in marriage.
Meanwhile, Violetta LaRosa — vexed with the inner turmoil of secretive motherhood — learns of the planned kidnapping and fears the worst for her Sweet William. Once told, he’s off to foil the debauchery, seemingly alone.
But soon enough in Ketchikan, everyone knows, and they all head to Kurt’s boat, the Black Brailer, to help derail the kidnapping.
There, it’s learned that nobody’s perfect, as all truths come to the surface with one final hurrah.
“I say this every year, and I’ll say it again, because I think it’s the nugget of truth in this show,” Nelson said. “It’s a show that does not have a serious bone in its body, and as soon as you try to make it be anything that it’s not, it fails.
“It’s silly and fun,” she said, “and the sillier and the more fun you have with it, the better it is.”
Tickets are available for “Fish Pirate’s Daughter” at FCP’s 335 Main St. office, as well as online at the organization’s Facebook page and at firstcityplayers.org. Contact the nonprofit for more information.