If you do not know that “Chariots of Fire” is my favorite movie, you do not know me. https://oldladywriting.com/2019/06/04/run-your-own-race/ Once I saw it, I became obsessed with everything mentioned in the film, such as
- Watching PBS, in the hopes of running into any of the actors who appeared in “Chariots”. This was before BBC America, friends!
- Watching the Olympics. OK, I loved the Olympics since Moscow ’80. “Chariots” didn’t do it singlehandedly, but still.
- Wanting to go to England. We had no resources to do that for a very long time. Eventually I went to London for spring break of my senior year in college. With my grandmother. I repeat—with my grandmother. If you do not know how fraught our relationship is, you do not know me. But there is a happy end to this particular story—I have visited London many times since then, sans Grandma, and each trip has been an improvement.
- Wanting to take “Sybil” for my middle name. Sybil is NOT my middle name, because by the time I could acquire one, I had fallen in love with The Monkees.
- Wanting to see all the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.
- Wanting to have “Jerusalem” sung at my funeral. I am saving this one for last. Literally and obviously.
So, one of the many unexpectedly wonderful benefits of this great film is that it introduced me to the world of Gilbert and Sullivan. And unlike my belated foray into running, this was instant. In the movie, Harold Abrahams joins Cambridge’s Gilbert and Sullivan society. Apparently, this is factual. So snippets of the operettas are part of the soundrack—it is not all Vangelis. I must confess, although of course—of course!—I bought the record, I am not a huge Vangelis fan. I am generally not a fan of instrumental music. Not going to classical music concerts is one of my small rebellions against my upbringing. But I love musical theater. I need words and a plot.
Over the past 40 years, I have only seen four of their operettas—the three BIG ones, and “Ruddigore”. It started with “HMS Pinafore”. My high school, during a woefully depressed year when our millage did not pass, the school day was cut to five hours, and buses were cancelled (a disaster in rural Midwest), put “Pinafore” on in the choir room. The set was minimal, if any, but the costumes were great, because all guys were dressed like sailors. I recognized “He is an Englishman” from “Chariots of Fire” and was pretty excited. I was also amazed at the vocal and acting talents of my peers. The fact that I was generally unfazed by the immense inanity of the plot is a commentary on how limited my command of the English language was at the time.
In short succession, my mother and I managed to see professional touring productions of “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Mikado”. I had high hopes for the latter because of its special part in “Chariots”—but either my English regressed or the plot is even more bizarre than that of “Pinafore”, because I did not understand it. I have never seen it again.
“Pirates”, however, was great! “Pirates” is (or should it be “are”?) great! The production we saw in Detroit in the early ‘80s was perfect. I remember nothing about it except the lead. I think “Pirates” stands wonderfully well on its own merits. It is a fun, light, colorful bit of cheery entertainment. I am generally very open and even eager to see variations on the classical traditions—with certain exceptions. Directors, please, do not mess with “Pirates”!
“The Pirates of Penzance” also happens to be my husband’s favorite musical. Strangely, he does not care about the rest of the G&S body of work. He just loves “Pirates”. Specifically, he is obsessed with the Major General character. Even more narrowly, the “Modern Major General” song, and how quickly the actor can do it. Fast-talking Major General equals great “Pirates”. The Major General who is not fast enough just ruins everything for spouse.
He also claims that he saw that touring production in Detroit and remembers the young blond lead. To think that we could have met a decade before we did, at a Gilbert and Sullivan show! It would have led nowhere, for a whole host of reasons, but it is kind of romantic to think that we might have been at the same theater event. Happy World Theatre Day!
 This is kind of shameful. I know I had many other opportunities. Once the plague is over, I should focus more on G&S…
 The actor who played Frederick in the touring production of “The Pirates of Penzance” subsequently returned as the lead in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. I like to pretend that I saw Andy Gibb in “Joseph”, but I did not. I saw this guy. I wish I knew who he was, because he was great. If anyone knows—please tell me. This was before I started keeping show programs, unfortunately.