Gilbert and Sullivan

Years ago when I lived in Texas, I joined a wonderful theater group who put on *Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. I’ve loved those operettas all my life, and it was thrilling to be part of some of them. I did all the wigs and makeup, and I was always in the chorus. When I wasn’t on set during parts of the shows, I stood back behind the curtains to assist any of the actors who needed a quick costume change.

Now, you would think that shucking someone’s costume off within seconds and then cramming them into a whole new outfit would be embarrassing, but it really wasn’t. It was all about the timing, and that’s what counted. Also, before the shows went on, I did all the hair and makeup for everyone.

One evening we were going to a new theater in plenty of time to do all the costume changes, wigs and makeup for the show. However, when we got there, the door was locked! Somehow, the guy who was supposed to let us in simply forgot about us. By this time, people were starting to come by to get to their seats for the show; of course they couldn’t get in, either.

Time was quickly running out, and someone finally got hold of the person who was supposed to unlock the door. Once we got in, time was running out and we had to get into costumes and makeup as fast as we could. As I was the only person doing makeup, I lined up everyone and slapped on makeup quickly even as everyone was changing into their wigs and costumes.

Finally we were all set to go, and the show was a great success. To this day I still wonder how the heck we got it all together in such a short amount of time. But that’s show biz; you just have to roll with it and hope that everything turns out all right.

If you have never had the pleasure of seeing a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, do see one. You will not only laugh your head off, but you will be astounded at the music as well. I highly recommend the following:

  • H.M.S. Pinafore
  • The Pirates of Penzance
  • Patience
  • Iolanthe
  • The Mikado
  • The Yeomen of The Guard
  • The Gondoliers

*Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian era partnership of librettist W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911) and composer Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900). The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S. PinaforeThe Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado are among the best known.

Gilbert, who wrote the words, created fanciful “topsy-turvy” worlds for these operas, where each absurdity is taken to its logical conclusion—fairies rub elbows with British lords, flirting is a capital offence, gondoliers ascend to the monarchy, and pirates turn out to be noblemen who have gone wrong. Sullivan, six years Gilbert’s junior, composed the music, contributing memorable melodies that could convey both humour and pathos.

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