The afterlife of
— Gilbert and Sullivan’s famed operetta of 1885 — is a fascinating one. The original, of course, was vastly successful — the production at London’s Savoy Theatre ran for 672 performances, and the operetta went on to be produced by at least 150 opera companies throughout Europe and the United States in its first year alone. It remains the most widely produced of all the so-called Savoy Operas, and from 1885 until 1982, at least one D’Oyly Carte theatre company performed it every single year. Many of its songs became popular standards, and stage parodies, vaudeville take-offs and unauthorized productions abounded. Band composer John Philip Sousa wrote a “Mikado March,” and a
was performed in Berlin in the late 1920s.
In 1938, an all-black cast performed a
in Chicago, and famed impresario and producer Mike Todd staged an all-black
, starring the great Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, on Broadway in 1939. That production was also performed at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City — from which, remarkably, a piece of rare color footage, apparently shot by an audience member, survives, showing off the wild costumes and some of the choreography.
Fast-forward to the mid-1980s: composer Rob Bowman and lyricist David H. Bell, researching the 1939
, were frustrated by how little information they could find about that production. So they created their own version, dropping the African-American emphasis but retaining the 1940s-era cool, packing it with jazz, swing, gospel and blues-influenced music by Bowman, with book and libretto by Bell. Their
opened in March 1986 at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Since then, it’s had successful runs in Chicago and on London’s West End, with many additional productions staged all over the world.
It’s this 1986 version of
that will be performed by a Department of Theatre student cast at Chapman University for two consecutive Thursday-Saturdays, October 2-4 and 9-11, in Waltmar Theatre. Directed by Nina LeNoir, chair of the Department of Theatre, with music direction by Bill Brown, the production whisks you to a 1940s jazz club in a land where outlandish laws sentence people to death for almost any indiscretion. Despite all that, the language of jazz, the blues, and gospel are spoken fluently, and
weaves a tale of hilarious proportions. Despite the life or death stakes, the characters still find time to tap their toes and do their fair share of scat-singing and Lindy-hopping. The musical stays faithful to the original Gilbert and Sullivan operetta in song and story, but blends the Victorian and the World War II-era into a wild and entertaining evening of theatre. Don’t miss it!