Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sepia Saturday #199 - G & S


The prompt photo this week was taken in 1914 in Waterford, Ireland and it's been suggested that it might be the cast of an amateur performance of the Pirates of Penzance.

When I was growing up, my sister and I sang Gilbert and Sullivan songs all the time, switching the roles around, playing men and women. Sometimes for the operettas we knew well we sang all the parts.
We'd prance around the house and over-act, cracking each other up - those were very happy moments I shared with her. Gilbert and Sullivan operettas were very popular high school musical productions and as Winnipeg was a very musical city, the choir and the operettas were more popular than football. At least in my memory.

Here's a photo of my sister Eilleen in a high school production of the "Mikado. She was one of the Three Little Maids.

The second photo is Eilleen and Wally Fox-Decent who played, I believe, Nanki-Pu. Wally didn't let the kimono and fan slow him down and went on to have a distinguished career. Here's his bio when he was awarded a Distinguished Alumni Award from the university.


Distinguished Alumni Award

Waldron “Wally” Fox-Decent

Waldon “Wally” Fox Decent received a BA in political science in 1959 while enrolled at United College, and an MA in 1971 from the University of Manitoba.
For some 35 years, Fox-Decent has been a mediator and arbitrator in labour/management disputes. He has served as Chairman of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Manitoba, as well as its Chief Executive Officer. He also has chaired the Advisory Council on Workplace Safety and Health and the Labour Management Review Committee.
From 1962 to 1995, Fox-Decent was professor of Political Studies at the University of Manitoba.  He has chaired a number of province-wide committees, most notably three successive Manitoba Legislative Task Forces on constitutional reform, including the task force on the Meech Lake Accord and the task force on the Charlottetown Agreement.  In 1997, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.
Fox-Decent joined the Canadian Naval Reserve in 1954 as a cadet at HMCS Chippawa. From 1987 to 1990, he was Chief of Reserves and Cadets for the Canadian Forces. Between 1988 and 1990, he also served as the first Canadian to hold the post of Chief of Reserves Committee for all NATO countries. He retired in 1996 with the rank of Rear Admiral, Reserve.
For his outstanding achievements and contributions in the political, military, educational, and labour relations arenas, Fox-Decent received the June 2002 University of Winnipeg Distinguished Alumni Award.
Eilleen

Eilleen and Wally Fox-Decent 
I've seen many professional productions of the operettas but the most unique one was the gay production of H.M.S. Pinafore, named "Pinafore" in Los Angeles in 2001. It was a huge hit here where it won the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award for best adaptation and five L. A. Weekly Awards. While it was extensively rewritten it still shared the spirit of the original, the humor coming from being serious about ridiculous things.  From the CD liner notes.


Christmas Card from the Cast 2001
Pinafore (Original Cast)
Book and Score Adapted by Mark Savage from W.S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan

Staring Debra Lane, Wilson Raiser, Christopher Hall, Michael Gregory, R. Christofer Sands and David Gillam Fuller


A “Pinafore” about an all-gay U.S. Navy? Why not? For a hundred and twenty-five years people have been adapting, converting, altering, adjusting and generally using Gilbert and Sullivan’s irresistible comic confection H.M.S. Pinafore for their own purposes. Some have changed the original just to avoid copyright problems. Some have changed it out of a strange idea that it had become dated. It would be hard to imagine any adaptation succeeding, however, without being based on a deeply felt appreciation for the original. Appreciation is the key to the success of this one – and succeed it does. Handsomely!

This high camp adaptation of what was a high camp original builds on the honorable tradition of Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan to use the comic opera format to get away with only thinly disguised commentary on the issues of the day and the foibles of society.

This “Pinafore” is bannered “A Sexy, Saucy, Ship Shape New Musical.” It is set in the mythical presidency of Al Gore at a time when the failed “don’t ask-don’t tell” policy of the Clinton years has been supplanted by a segregation of the armed services by sexual preference. The Navy is now all gay and the Commander of the Navy is none other than Senator Barney Crank of Maryland who is coming to claim in marriage the child of the Captain of the good ship Pinafore. That child is a drag queen who happens to be loved by a sailor in that ship’s crew – a young man who not only has the misfortune of being the only heterosexual left in the new gay navy, he also is unaware of the fact that the “girl” he loves is, in fact, a boy.

Just as the plot of the original was a simple structure on which Gilbert hung fabulously witty baubles emphasized by the earnestness of Sullivan’s sumptuous score, so adaptor Mark Savage drapes his barbs on the same simple structure, changing it only enough to accommodate his concept. Thus whole choruses and verses stand unchanged except by context: this show gives entirely new meaning to Gilbert’s “Gaily Tripping.” Occasionally he over does it. “Our commander Barney Cranks a painfully P.C. dude / But we really owe him thanks / ‘cause we love his taste in seafood!” is too much of a stretch. But there are times when he comes up with an improvement in the wit of the original. Surely that is the case with the change of “my proffered love despised, rejected / No, no, its not to be expected” to the much more felicitous “My offered love she tosses from her / No, not, its much to big a bummer!”

This recording was made four months into the show’s apparently successful run in Los Angeles by which time the cast had enough experience performing the material before an audience to know how to not only sing the songs but sell the bits. It is a fine capturing of what must be a fun show. It probably isn’t something to be listened to frequently but it is one heck of a fun single listen.

Now for the rest of the day I'll have Three Little Maids playing on that tape in my head. 






21 comments:

  1. My high school had a yearly operetta, but it wasn't as popular as football!

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    1. I'm going to have to check back with my classmates...this was my perception of things but
      the football fans may disagree.

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  2. As a G & S fellow enthusiast, I enjoyed reading your post.. especially about the alternative "Pinafore". .

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  3. We saw, "The Pirates of Penzance" at Stratford (Ontario) last year and it was fantastic. I've only ever seen one other production, "H.M.S. Pinafore", and would dearly love to see, "The Mikado", but I'll settle for any G & S they want to mount!

    I love, "Topsy Turvy" too. Do you?

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    1. Yes, I loved Topsy Turvy and their excitement about the invention of the fountain pen. Made me realize how much we take for granted.

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  4. Wish I had seen that version. How hilarious. My favorite G&S was Pirates of Penzance starring Linda Ronstadt. Saw it New York in previews. She was fantastic. What a voice.
    Your sister is so pretty in her costume. And Wally!! What a resume. I wonder what he would think if he ran across your blog and saw his photo.
    Nancy

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    1. I saw Linda in the movie version with Kevin Kline. Sad to think that she can't sing anymore.

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  5. A nice memory of Wally Fox-Decent, even if it does rather contrast with his bio.

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  6. Now that's a fun Christmas card photo!

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  7. I love the Mikado. We had a production here in Lanzarote last year and I was singing all the songs for weeks. I think I know all the words. My Mum was in a school production in the 1920s.the pictures of you sister are lovely.

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  8. I unfortunately have never watched a Gilbert and Sullivan play (let alone the Pirates of Penzance). They are not well known in the Netherlands.

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    1. Many of them are available on DVD's. Some of the humor would be lost in translation for sure.

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    2. British humor is very popular in the Netherlands, and 99% of the population speaks English fairly well. I'll give it a try sometime.

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  9. One of the high schools I taught at did a number of G&S performances. My job was the costumes. Great fun. I love the Gay Pinafore idea.

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  10. Thanks for the trip back in memories, it has been I don't know how long since I've seen any G & S. The Pirates of Penzance seemed to make a resurgence with local community theaters about 15 years ago. The Mikado photos are striking.

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  11. Thanks a bunch I will now have it stuck in my head. My mother used to sing this along with a song about a girl in a blue dress.

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  12. I've seen productions of both "HMS Pinafore" and "Pirates of Penzance", but have sung many of Gilbert & Sullivan's songs from other of their operettas. Lots of fun - especially if you understand the meanings between the lines. I have a wonderful book of solos from British Music Hall days and talk about reading between the lines! Marvelous fun!!!

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  13. I think it's time for a few more G&S revivals. They are great fun.

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  14. I will always take this over football and any other sports in school.

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  15. Eilleen looks like a doll! The Pinafore sounds fun.

    Hazel

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  16. I like knowing others grew up dancing around the house. I look back on it and wonder how my folks handled the performances they were always being subjected to.

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