‘I AM the very model of a modern Major General...” Say the names Gilbert & Sullivan and the chances are these lyrics from The Pirates of Penzance, arguably their most famous work, spring instantly to mind. They’ll probably keep playing in your head for the next hour.
Say the same names to the cast of Gilbert and Sullivan in Brief(s), however, and they’ll sing you the duo’s complete works in an hour - all 14 of them!
The show is the brainchild of writer and director Ray Cullom, of New York’s Queens Theater, whose love of G&S started as a child.
“G&S have been a constant in my life. A guilty secret,” he laughs. “I have loved this stuff since I was eight years old, when my dad took me to see a tour of The Mikado. I was so enamoured of the characters; they were running up and down the aisles with swords and axes and the audience were laughing.
“I remember the gentleman playing Coco came at me in my little aisle seat with a huge axe, just missing me. That was the beginning of it.
“Then, when I went to college in Chicago there was a G&S Society. I joined straight away. Even in my senior year at High School, when everyone was upset that we were doing The Mikado as our end-of-year show, I was secretly overjoyed that we weren’t doing Godspell or something like that.”
Direct from New York, where it ran to packed houses and great acclaim, Gilbert and Sullivan in Brief(s) comes to the Pleasance for its first Fringe run.
In it, a pompous tenor, an ambitious but ditsy soprano, a voluptuous mezzo and a veteran baritone face the challenge of getting through every G&S operetta in 70 minutes... all without killing each other. Described as a ‘madcap race,’ the four play pirates, sailors, major generals as well as damsels in distress, in what has been called ‘a topsy-turvy musical romp.’
Cullom, who himself has been known to play many of G&S’s most famous roles, including the Pirate King, says, “It’s actually a tribute to the genius of Gilbert himself.
“Even though the charcaters are in this crazy situation, we try to touch on every opera as well as commenting on what Gilbert was writing about, his motivation for doing so, and the cleverness of the lyric and charcaters which reflected the class society around him.
“Gilbert was obsessed with class and we try to allow that to inform what these four characters are doing.”
Although Cullom confesses the show is a labour of love, it does have its irreverent moments. It started life a decade ago as a one-night revue that just grew and grew, he recalls.
“Over the years it has evolved from a revue into a character-driven comedy. G&S is the vehicle we use for the chaos that ensues.
“There are a great deal of musical jokes in the show that will make people laugh out loud even when there’s nothing else happening on the stage. People are militantly passionate about G&S but you don’t have to be a fan to enjoy this show, general audiences just love the comedy, characters and the pace of the piece.”
Gilbert and Sullivan in Brief(s), Pleasance Courtyard, until August 27, 4.30pm, £6-£12, www.edfringe.com