Not the Very Model of a Gilbert and Sullivan Fan


Above: The Joe Papp production of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE

I was browsing through the MTI catalogue on their website today and stumbled upon the licensing page for the Joe Papp/Public Theatre version of The Pirates of Penzance. This made me think once again about the much revered comic operas of Victorian-era librettist and composer W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan and about why they’ve never become favourites of mine.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no Gilbert and Sullivan expert, but I find I can only manage their work in small doses. I appreciate the popular songs (“I’m Called Little Buttercup”, “Poor Wand’ring One”, “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” and so on)as well as the big trios and other ensemble numbers of assorted sizes (like “Three Little Maids from School are We”, “Come, friends, who Plough the Sea” and “We Sail the Ocean Blue”). I understand the importance of their work in relationship to the development of musical theatre. I completely get the significance of Patience when it comes to the issue of gay representation in musical theatre. And I loved the “HMS Yakko”, the Animaniacs short that parodied the HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance.

But put on a cast recording or DVD of one of the complete shows and I’ll struggle to get through it. I can’t even sit through the cast album of The Hot Mikado without becoming restless. And despite several opportunities to see amateur productions of a few of the shows, I’ve not managed to gather together enough motivation to buy a ticket and get myself there. Perhaps I need to force myself to do so when the next one comes along.

In the meantime, it might be a good idea to go and find the video recording of the Joe Papp version of The Pirates of Penzance in all its bastardised glory and see if I can find a way into the Gilbert and Sullican oeuvre that way. Most of what I’ve read about this version of the show is positive, with an appreciation for its broader, more musical theatre style of comedy, adapted orchestrations, key changes and interpolations. After all, I think it is the style against which I’m grating.

If I do, perhaps I’ll post my reactions as things go along. Properly getting to grips with Gilbert and Sullivan seems like a noble resolution for 2014. Maybe it will prove to be ‘idle chatter of a transcendental kind’.

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