Before there was The Pirates of Penzance…before there was HMS Pinafore…before any of their later successes, Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated for the very first time on Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old, a comic take on Greek mythology, now being performed at various venues around the city by the Gilbert and Sullivan Light Opera Company of Long Island.
The plot revolves around Jupiter and his cronies, amid the remnants of a ruined temple high atop Mount Olympus. The gods, it seems, are at odds; Mercury believes that the imperious Diana–and all the rest of them–are losing their influence among the mortals down below; Diana doesn’t buy it. Other gods express much the same belief to the Big Boss himself, Jupiter, but he also has a hard time accepting it. Eventually, they all decide to head down to Earth to mingle with their “children” and assess the problem first-hand–and when they encounter a wandering troupe of Olympus-based actors (led by the title character, the pompous and egotistical Thespis himself), they “hire” them to be their (temporary) replacements. (Men need gods to look up to, after all.) The actors, naturally, are thrilled; who wouldn’t want to be a god, with a god’s powers, for even a single day, let alone–as it turns out–an entire year?
The acting is broad and burlesque-y, which is only to be expected, considering that this is, after all, Gilbert and Sullivan. (Actually, it’s a Gilbert; Sullivan’s score went missing years ago, and G & S aficionado Thomas Z. Shepard has recreated much of it, and even added some music of his own.) The pace lags at times, too, but the singing is often quite lovely–nearly everyone is in fine, operatic voice–and musical director Matthew Kasper’s orchestra, providing accompaniment that is alternately lush and romantic and bold and brassy, is top-notch.
The Gilbert and Sullivan Light Opera Company of Long Island is an amateur group, to be sure, and much of the performance did, indeed, lack polish. (Not energy or enthusiasm–just polish.) But if you’re a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan, or merely curious about what they were capable of back when they were first starting out, you may want to buy a ticket to this two hour-plus toga party, anyway. (Fair warning: You’ve never seen so many togas on stage in your life!)
(NOTE: The Gilbert and Sullivan Light Opera Company of Long Island will be performing Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old over the July 4th weekend, both on the Island and in Queens. Check their website, GilbertandSullivanLI.com, for details.)
THEATRE REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien in New York