They are the very models of two modern major influencers.
Gilbert and Sullivan are still very much part of the scene, nearly 150 years after their first production. Their 14 Victorian-era comic operas, wildly popular in their time, paved the way for the development of British and American musicals. And today their works remain among the most beloved, staged, and referenced pieces of musical theater in pop culture — from “Hamilton” to “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” to “The West Wing” to Lizzo.
This Friday, that high-voltage, fanciful, satiric tradition continues at Harvard as the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players set sail on a nine-show run of “H.M.S. Pinafore” at the Agassiz Theatre.
The love-conquers-all comic opera about a captain’s daughter and a lowly sailor was the fourth collaboration of dramatist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan and arguably their most famous work, running for a near-record 571 performances after its premiere in London in 1878.
“You just can’t listen to Gilbert and Sullivan without being entirely entranced,” said Ross Simmons ’21, the troupe’s historian. “The music just lifts your soul out of your chest” and the dialogue “contains great poetry.”
Performing Gilbert and Sullivan on campus since 1956, Harvard’s resident company has become one of the leading troupes in New England dedicated to the work of the duo, consistently staging among the most well-attended and lavishly produced shows on campus.
As with all the group’s performances, members are responsible for all aspects of production, from the creative to the technical. They select the show, set the budget, cast the actors, do the lighting, sets, and costumes, direct, and choreograph. The effort is massive and takes months of logistical work and weeks of rehearsal.