Wednesday, November 15, 2006
GILBERT & SULLIVAN'S 1st SHOW
Today is the anniversary of the first show in the long and stormy career of Gilbert & Sullivan. That show was "Thespis" in 1871. Gilbert wrote the fanciful words for these operettas in which an absurdity is taken to its logical conclusion. In their shows, we rub elbows with flirting English Lords, and gondoliers ascend to the monarchy: not to mention pirates who turn out to be nobleman who have gone wrong! Gilbert's lyrics employ double and sometimes triple rhymes and great punning! They served as a model for later composers such as Cole Porter and Ira Gershwin. Gilbert and Sullivan had a strained working relationship at best partly caused by the fact that each man saw himself allowing his work to be subjugated to the other's criticism and review. Well so much for collaboration! Gilbert was often confrontational and notoriously thin skinned (though proned to many acts of extraordinary kindness) Sullivan loved conflict! Sullivan loved realism and emotional content and Gilbert infused his libretto with "Topsy Turvey" situations in which the social order was turned upside down. Gilbert political satire poked fun at those in the circles of privilege-- many of these were Sullivan's friends-- and whom he assumed were being offended by these swipes and put downs. "Thespis" was their first collaboration that was performed for the first time on this day in 1871. In this show the "gods" of the classical world who have become elderly and ineffective are temporarily replaced by a troupe of actors and actresses. . The piece mocked "Orpheus In the Underworld". No one thought they would continue together as a team because the show lasted only sixty-four performances on the English stage. In fact, the pair did not work together again for another four years for what was to become a major hit. It was called "Trial By Jury" . But it was only one act. Only the later (1877) "The Sorcerer" was the first full length Gilbert and Sullivan in what became known as the Savory Operas. This was the first comic opera. It was about a cockney businessman who just so happens to be a great unappreciated sorcerer who offers both blessings (not much called for) and curses (very popular) for those with the right state of mind and funds to buy it with. It ran 131 performances and established the team! I have always wanted to write a spoof on Gilbert and Sullivan. I imagine it to be called "The Revenge of Gilbert and Sullivan" In my original notes, Gilbert and Sullivan are up in heaven and are constantly arguing and fighting driving poor Saint Peter crazy. He can't take their fighting and bickering any longer and he sends them back to Earth to do one last production using all the knowledge they have now and have gained in eternity. Well that sounds fun, but I think now it might be really fun to take that original production of Thespis and combine it with "The Sorcerer" The plot would be the same-- but instead of using Saint Peter and saints and religious folk, why not put the pair on Mount Olympus where now Zeus and the other Greek gods are old and ineffectual. Of course, we assume these guys aren't myth at all! On Mount Olympus where G&S reside in eternity they are are still fighting and Zeus himself can't stand the fighting and constant arguments anymore. So Zeus proposes to the pair that they go back to Earth and find actors who are tired of "the weary Earth and would love to portray the aged gods for reasons of image, literature, even "publicity"-- after all-- what fun is it to be a "god" if nobody believes in you anymore --even English majors! And all because you're too old to make your presence known anymore? If they succeed and the "gods" are impressed, the actors can stay and go G&S operettas in eternity forever-- living as "gods' usually do. But if they fail-- its off to the Underworld where the aged "gods" may not have usable replacements, but they won't have to listen to G&S fight anymore! This prevents anyone not into religion to enjoy the show as pure satire. So G&S go back to Earth and find the decedent of that same Sorcerer who has all of his great grandfather's old potions stored away. The poor magician is almost destitute and doesn't even think these potions work. But they do! And G&S (who did all the casting of their shows and made performers outstanding by continually working with and coaching them) decide to do the same, but this time use the magic potions to give these actors great wit, personality, power, magic-- all the things a Greek god replacement would need. Would any actor give up their uncertain life and uncertain success on earth for a chance of eternity "playing" a Greek god? No more worries! No more bills! No more taxes! Well, you get the point. Well at first everything is wonderful at first and the "Greek gods" are very impressed and happy. But "magic" isn't forever and the actors and actresses are starting to lose the powers that the potions from the Sorcerer gave them. Not wishing to lose "eternity on Mount Olympus" they resort to their own talents without magic and their own built in ego from earth-- that spells big trouble. It may be "Underworld time at any moment. Hey life was hell-- but not the kind they face! And so G&S take matters into their own hands-- they simply tell the actors troupe that they must ditch the magic (which wears out more and more each day) and G&S coach the actors trouper just like they did in the 1800's. The old adage "Be yourself" is more magic than any potion and the actors troupe save their life in paradise by showing the gods -- that they can be their old persona's again too by simply believing in themselves as they used to and letting the actors remain in eternity to entertain them doing simply what they do best-- brilliant theatre! Brilliant Gilbert & Sullivan! Sounds fun-- And the Sorcerer? Well, he knows when his goose is cooked and leaves Olympus pronto for his old life on Earth! Paradise isn't always what you think! Will it work? Will I ever get to write this thing-- well we shall see what we shall see!