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About the Show
The story of the fabled collaboration of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan will come to new life, when the Gilbert & Sullivan Light Opera Company of Long Island will premiere an all-new movie version of Gayden Wren’s biographical play “Very Truly Yours, Gilbert & Sullivan.
Directed by Gayden Wren, with Thomas Z. Shepard as the music director and accompanist, the movie features 51 members of the company, spanning the past 51 years of the company’s 67-year history. The cast ranges from one member who joined in 1970 (and has appeared in every main production since) to two who are making their debut in the current production.
“This isn’t a revue of Gilbert & Sullivan songs,” Wren said, “but rather a play that traces the history of the collaboration between W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan through readings from their letters and diaries, newspaper accounts and other contemporary documents. The story is illustrated with performances of songs from all 14 Gilbert & Sullivan operas (and one non-operatic G&S song).”
Wren’s play was originally presented by the Light Opera Company in 1995, and had a limited run Off-Broadway (at the Samuel Beckett Theater) in 1998. Since then it has been produced by numerous other companies around the country, including groups in Colorado, Michigan, upstate New York, Ohio and Texas.
This is not a filmed performance of the company’s live touring production of the play, but an original movie directed by the author, who is also its co-producer, along with Sara Holliday, who is also its technical director and editor.
Production took place on Long Island (and also in upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee) between December 2020 and April 2021. In accordance with New York State’s COVID-19 rules, the movie was shot and performed entirely by the actors in their own homes, following detailed instructions from the director and music director. In duets, trios, quartets and choruses, no two individuals ever shot their portions of the song in the same time or place.
“Like the rest of the world, we had to learn a lot of new things in 2020,” Holliday said. “When it became clear that we would have to postpone our 2020 production of ‘The Mikado,’ we started thinking about ways that we could use some of the new technology we’d been learning, and this is what we came up with. When we started, we literally didn’t know how we’d do some of the things we wanted to do, but we trusted that we’d come up with something—and we did! We’re performing artists, singers, actors and dancers, and it will take more than a global pandemic to stop us from performing.”
“The company has never made a movie before,” Wren added, “but this isn’t actually that far removed from what we’ve done for the past 67 years. We’re a touring company, bringing Gilbert & Sullivan shows to churches, schools, parks and libraries throughout Nassau, Suffolk, Queens and beyond. We’ve turned the tiny stage at the Peninsula Public Library into the deck of the Pinafore; we’ve gone to Babylon’s Phelps Lane Park in a windstorm and made it into the Court of the Exchequer, we’ve climbed up on the altar platform at Sag Harbor’s Old Whaler’s Presbyterian Church and turned it into Ebenezer Scrooge’s office. Making our own homes into movie sets, stages and concert halls … it’s just more of the same.”
“Very Truly Yours, Gilbert & Sullivan” had its world premiere on May 15 (the date was chosen to mark Arthur Sullivan’s 179th birthday, which is May 13), streaming on YouTube (search for “GAS LOCOLI,” noting the space). There is no charge, though donations are encouraged.