Gilbert & Sullivan Austin Bring Broadway Music to the Dell JCC
By Diane Radin
W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan thought they were creating high quality entertainment reflecting the current issues and foibles of their Victorian society. They were doing that and so much more. They changed English musical theatre forever.
Audiences are still reaping the benefits and hearing their influences today. Even when it’s not acknowledged or even noticeable, the Savoy operas had an enduring impact on musical theatre.
On March 12 at 2:00 p.m., ten singers will connect the dots between the works of favorite Victorian pair and some of the most popular Broadway songs at a free Gilbert & Sullivan Austin event open to the public at Epstein Family Community Hall / Gloria & Harvey Evans Performance Center at the Dell Jewish Community Center. Guests are asked to bring vegetarian snacks to share.
Patter songs and topsy turvy plots had existed for a long time but were usually rather silly and possessed little or none of the elegance and virtuosity of Gilbert’s. GSA’s Music Director Dr. Jeffrey Jones-Ragona points out that, “Sullivan was among the most conscientious of text-setters —his airs ‘sing’ rather comfortably—no small accomplishment as English is a very difficult language to sing in.”
Gilbert’s lyrics move the plot and characterize the personnel. He is credited with giving his choruses character, that is, specific types of people logically present for the action, instead of a horde of villagers, for instance. They were sailors, pirates, dragoons, members of Parliament, and more.
The standards Gilbert and Sullivan set at the Savoy Theatre in many ways have become the cultural expectations of musical theatre. Gilbert was among the first—if not the first—to control the actors’ movements and characterizations. He tolerated little ad libbing and no extra bits for the sake of a laugh, nor did he allow outside music or dialogue into his plays (something that was common practice in theatre). Today we expect a director to literally direct everything on stage, and we expect the show to be delivered by the creators whole and complete—no places for additional songs or other routines.
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