June 29, 1981 12:00 PM

In Gilbert and Sullivan’s version, the Pirates of Penzance are a band of zany lapsed aristocrats who rescue a group of young girls from spinsterhood. In producer Joe Papp’s latest U.S. revival, just opened at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre, The Pirates of Penzance is a lifeboat for a pair of youthful stars who thought their careers were lost at sea. As Mork’s Mindy, Pam Dawber has watched her once top-rated series nose-dive this season; likewise, teen throb Andy Gibb has languished of late in the professional doldrums. “My career’s been going nowhere,” the 23-year-old kid brother of the Bee Gees admitted before the operetta premiered. “Let’s face it, I haven’t had a hit for quite a while.” Added a rueful Dawber: “No one seems to know I can do anything but be Mindy.”

If the critics are any indication, Pam and Andy can stop worrying. Los Angeles Times curmudgeon Dan Sullivan, who had reservations about Papp’s earlier New York production and cast, declared that the L.A. rendition “blows you out of the water.” Compared to Dawber and Gibb, he sniped, their Broadway counterparts, Linda Ronstadt and Rex Smith, “put you in mind of the high school play.” That finally put at ease the apprehensive mind of Dawber, as she settled in for a three-month run in L.A. “It’s going to be a pleasure,” beams Dawber. “I love to sing more than anything—more than acting, even. And the magic of having an orchestra blaring out—it’s a real experience.”

For Andy, also, Pirates represents a real coming of age. Although at age 22 he had released a “Greatest Hits” album, Gibb has led what he calls “a pretty aimless life,” under the shadow of his Bee Gee big brothers. “I didn’t have any goals,” he admits. “I just got so pressured in by the teeny-bopper syndrome and I didn’t think I was ever going to grow out of it. I went through a big ego thing for quite a while. I needed a big kick in the pants.” Last November he left the family enclave in Miami and drove to L.A., where he leased a Malibu beach home and began a famous romance with Dallas’ Victoria Principal, 31. “I was ruining my own career before I met this woman,” Gibb says. “She’s brought a whole new confidence into my life.” Victoria was just the beginning of Andy’s change of fortune. It was shortly after he met Principal that Papp and Pirates director Wilford Leach caught Gibb on ABC’s Good Morning America and invited him to see the Broadway production of the show. He was enthralled. “I’d love to be involved in something like this,” he told Leach, who was casting about for a singer to take the Smith role in the West Coast production. “Good,” the director shot back. “When can you start?”

Dawber, meantime, was wondering whether there was life after Mork & Mindy, which plummeted last year after being slotted against CBS’ Archie Bunker’s Place. The show is slated for a last-gasp resuscitation effort next season: Mindy and her otherworldly buddy will marry and Mork, not Mindy, will give birth to the child. But Dawber, 29, is not totally convinced that will help, noting, “They’re only ordering 13 shows at the moment, so who knows what will happen?” In any case, she believes she could be happy out of the limelight, dividing her time between her causes (gun control and solar power) and between her Hollywood Hills bungalow and a 289-acre lakeside spread in the Catskills. She has shared quarters with actor-model Philip Coccioletti for 2½ years, but they don’t plan marriage unless they decide to have children. Yet for all her professed other interests, Pam rehearsed so hard for her Pirates audition that she strained her vocal cords and developed nodules. Papp and Leach gave her a second try—and then the part. “It’s the best thing that could have happened,” she says.

Pirates was no picnic for Andy, either. With no formal voice training, he quickly went hoarse tackling Arthur Sullivan’s arias. “My voice was so worn out that when I went to blast, it came out like a croak. It scared the life out of me,” he says. Three weeks of work with a New York singing coach put the baby Bee Gee back on key and extended his range six notes, but he was still worried about his dramatic abilities. “He’s going through all the agonies of ‘Oh, I can’t act, I can’t dance,’ ” a sympathetic Dawber explains. “In fact, he can.” Now that the notices are in, Andy can at last relax. But for Pam, the trial is only beginning. In the late summer (if the TV strike is over) she faces a killing schedule, playing for the cameras in Mork & Mindy during the day, then hustling to the theater for her nightly stint onstage. She says she’s up to the challenge. “I hope my voice holds out,” she adds. “I’ll be taking a lot of vitamins. With luck my vocal cords should be ironclad by then.”

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